How to secure your online data: A guide to cybersecurity

Learn how to spot and patch network gaps before scammers steal your invaluable data.
Elma Henshaw
Stock photo: Hooded hacker, a cyber attack concept.
Stock photo: Hooded hacker, a cyber attack concept.


Cybersecurity is the defense against cyber threats to systems, especially those linked to the internet. This includes threats to hardware, software, and data. Individuals and businesses can use a variety of methods to prevent unauthorized access to data, equipment, and digital systems.

The phrase cybersecurity may also be used to refer to information technology security or electronic information security. It may involve network security, application security, information security, operational security, disaster recovery, end-user education, and even physical security such as installing fingerprint scanners or perimeter fences.

Understanding cybersecurity threats

Any potential harmful breach that aims to gain unauthorized access to data or systems, interfere with digital activities, or contaminate information could be a cyber security threat. Cyber threats may come from various sources, including corporate espionage, hacktivists, terrorist organizations, adversarial nation-states, criminal organizations, lone hackers, and disgruntled workers.

There have been multiple high-profile cyberattacks in recent years. In the 2017 Equifax breach, the personal information of 143 million people was leaked, including birth dates, addresses, and Social Security numbers. In 2018, Marriott Worldwide reported that hackers had accessed its systems and taken data on almost 500 million customers.

In 2022, Marriott was again hacked, resulting in the loss of 20 gigabytes of sensitive data, including guests' credit card information. In that incident, an unnamed hacking group claimed they used social engineering to trick an employee at a Marriott hotel into giving them access to their computer.

Cyber security experts are crucial for maintaining the security of private data since cyber attackers might utilize sensitive data to steal information or access the bank accounts of an individual or a corporation, among other potentially detrimental acts.

How to secure your online data: A guide to cybersecurity
Close up view of system hacking on a monitor.

Common types of cyber attacks

Cybersecurity experts point to a number of common types of cyber attacks and effective preventive measures. Many of these use techniques such as social engineering to gain access to systems in the first place.

  • Malware: This category can include spyware, ransomware, viruses, and worms, which are types of harmful software, often contained in a link or email attachment. When you click on a malicious link or attachment, the harmful software is installed. According to Cisco, once the malware is active, it could: Restrict access to essential network components and hold it for ransom (ransomware); Install additional malicious software; steal information secretly by sending data from the hard disk (spyware); damage individual components, rendering the system useless.

  • Trojan horse: A type of malware that downloads onto a computer disguised as a legitimate program. For example, the Trojan Emotet is among the most costly and most harmful trojans. It is distributed through emails containing malicious Microsoft Word and Excel document attachments. When users open these documents and macros are enabled, the Emotet code will be downloaded and can spy on private data.

  • Phishing: Phishing attacks employ spam correspondence, such as an email, to con the recipient into opening it and following the instructions, like entering credit card information. According to Cisco, the intention is to steal personal information like credit card numbers and login credentials or to infect the victim's computer with malware.

  • Password attacks: A cyber attacker can often gain access by learning or guessing the appropriate password. According to Data Insider, social engineering is a sort of password assault that "relies primarily on human contact and frequently includes persuading users into breaching common security procedures." Accessing a password database, guessing, or even walking into an office and looking for passwords written near computers, are all examples of other password assaults.

  • Denial of Service (DoS) attacks: This is another common type of cyber attack. It bombards a network with requests, preventing it from responding. The same technique is accomplished through a distributed DoS, except in this case the assault comes from a network of computers - sometimes computers are "hijacked" for this purpose using malware. This type of cyber attack may employ a number of methods, such as use flood attacks that thwart the "handshake" protocols used to connect computers.

How to secure your online data: A guide to cybersecurity
Algorithm on screen.

Cybersecurity is becoming more and more critical as the volume and sophistication of cyberattacks increase. Cybersecurity is critical because it helps defend against online attacks on businesses and people. Data breaches and other forms of cybercrime may be avoided with proper cybersecurity measures in place. To secure consumers' data and information, businesses need robust cybersecurity procedures.

Protecting your devices

Updating software operating systems

Ensure you install new OS updates as soon as they come out. Most updates come with security patches that stop cyber attacks from accessing and using your data. This is important because many hackers take advantage of the brief period between when a vulnerability is found and when a patch is issued.

Apps are no different. Today's web browsers are getting smarter daily, especially regarding privacy and security. In addition to applying all fresh updates, always check your browser's security settings.

Installing antivirus and anti-malware software

Malware and computer viruses are common. Some antivirus products can protect computers from malicious malware and unauthorized code, although keep in mind they can generally only protect against known malware.

Viruses can cause obvious hazards like slowing down your computer or erasing important data, or they might be less obvious. By identifying threats and preserving your online data, antivirus software can be crucial to protect your machine. Look for antivirus solutions that provide regular automated updates that can safeguard your computer against fresh daily threats. Don't forget to run your antivirus application after installing it. Make sure you run or program routine virus scans to keep your computer virus-free.

Creating strong passwords

The key to preventing cyber-attacks is to use strong passwords. It is more difficult to assess your system the more secure your passwords are. Longer and more complicated frequently equates to more security. You should create a password that contains a random set of at least eight characters, and uses a mix of capital, lowercase, numbers, and symbols.

Using two-factor authentication

The first line of defense against cyber attacks is by using a strong password, but adding another layer increases security. Many websites now use two-factor authentication, which increases security by requiring you to provide a number code and your password when logging in. This code is delivered to your phone or email address.

Securing your online accounts

Avoid phishing scams

Phishing is when cyber attackers try to trick unwary users into, for example, clicking a dubious link that may install harmful software or take them to a website where they are encouraged to submit personal information. These are getting more sophisticated and harder to spot.

Create strong passwords

Make sure you use strong passwords for your online accounts. Make sure each password is complex and unique, and use distinct passwords for your social media accounts. You may stop unauthorized users from accessing your accounts by turning on 2FA for all of your accounts.

Protecting your email account

It can help to use different email accounts for different purposes. If you can, establish a separate email account to use with some online accounts, such as when shopping online, to help prevent hackers from getting access to your email if the account is cyber-attacked.

Using a password manager

Indeed, there are advantages to using a password manager. Password leaks—when websites are hacked and user information, such as usernames and passwords, ends up in the hands of criminals—have become commonplace. If hackers get their hands on your login information, they can use it on other websites. If you use the same login information on various websites, a data breach on one website might give hackers access to all of your online accounts. For this reason, it's crucial to use secure and distinctive passwords for every website.

Protecting your online privacy

Limiting the information you share online

Limiting the amount of information you put online is another precaution to take against cyber attacks. When it comes to this, social media networks spring to mind first, and that's a very good example. Photos of you or your loved ones, geotagged postings, or any other information you wouldn't want outsiders to know about should all be treated with extra caution. This information can be used in targeted phishing attacks.

Nearly all applications collect information about your actions in addition to social networking sites, and they may not secure your data as thoroughly as you would expect.

Using a VPN

By using a secure virtual private network (VPN), you can encrypt your data and prevent cyber attacks on your device. If you must access public Wi-Fi, such as in a coffee shop or airport, it is best to use a VPN. Keep in mind that utilizing unprotected or public Wi-Fi networks has several risks. Also, you can use an incognito or private mode, although it's less safe than you may believe.

Using secure messaging apps

Apps like WhatsApp, Imessaging, and Telegram provide encryption and are safer than emailing and texting on regular phones.

Protecting your social media accounts

We provide social networking sites with an incredible amount of data. It risks our privacy, security, and reputation since whatever we post online can come back to haunt us. Update your social media privacy settings first to minimize the data the platforms are gathering and the audience for your postings.

Protecting your home network

Securing your Wi-Fi network

The name of the router's manufacturer is frequently part of the default wireless network name. As a result, it can provide hints about the kind of router you're using and any vulnerabilities. Ensure your service set identifier (SSID) name does not contain your personal name, home address, or other private information. You can also disable wireless network name broadcasting for further security.

Changing the default password on your router

By changing the default passwords, you can help prevent unauthorized users from accessing your network's configuration, making changes, and getting network visibility.

Enabling encryption

To connect devices to your network, use Wi-Fi Protected Access 3 (WPA3) if it is enabled by the device, and pick a secure password. For greater security, wherever possible, use wired connections instead of wireless.

Updating firmware and software

When new vulnerabilities are discovered and patched, keeping your routers up to date with the most recent firmware helps to safeguard them against malware attacks.


Businesses and consumers that are concerned about cyber attacks may find this to be a frightening moment. There are dangers, and they are becoming more frequent and powerful. But have no fear. It is still entirely feasible to preserve crucial digital assets even if you are an individual with limited assets or a corporation that is the target of hacking by a nation-state.

By following the tips and best practices outlined in this guide, you can significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to cyber-attacks and keep your online data secure.

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