If you show up at Gordon Snow's home and need to check your email, don't expect to jump on his computer or Wi-Fi network. He'll want a scan of your computer first. And sharing his password with you? Forget about it.
Security is serious business for Snow who, until just recently, served as assistant director of the FBI's Cybercrime Division. And he wants you to take it seriously too.
"I really do believe that cybersecurity is the responsibility of every individual. You are only as strong as the weakest link," says Snow.
Why Doing Your Part Matters
The Internet Crime Complaint Center, run by the FBI and other organizations, processed more than 300,000 complaints last year, 120,000 of which were forwarded to law-enforcement agencies. And Kaspersky, a cybersecurity firm, recently reported that the number of Web-based malicious software attacks topped 940 million in 2011 -- a 16 percent increase in just one year.
Snow shares six tips to help you guard against cybercrime:
- Create complicated passwords. Steer clear of obvious personal references that a stranger could find easily through following you on social networks. This means avoiding birth dates, anniversaries, names, and patterns of numbers or letters. Snow uses different passwords on different systems and changes them regularly.
- Keep your personal network personal. Snow prefers a hard line to a wireless network (though he does have one). He sets his wireless router so it doesn't display his network's name. In addition, his router only allows devices to access his wireless network if Snow has manually entered the gadget's Media Access Control address, which is essentially a serial number unique to every device.
- Purchase secure gadgets. "I don't use anything that connects to the Internet that I'm not sure has strong security," Snow says. That means researching the potential security flaws of any device he buys. He recommends a simple Google search for "security flaws" and the device name. That basic query often turns up a wealth of information on the weaknesses of a potential purchase.
- Download apps with care. Snow is wary of free apps and programs unless he knows who provided and developed them, and whether they were properly tested. "We don't have anti-virus for a lot of smartphones and personal electronic devices that are out there," he explains. "So you need to ensure that the systems you are on, the applications you load and the actions you take are done in the most thought-out way."
- Keep important information offline. If you have highly sensitive information, it should be stored on a device that is not connected to the Internet. This might seem difficult in an age of mobile banking and shopping, but remember: "If it's not [connected to the Internet] and you are compromised, then they really have nothing to take," Snow says.
- Be cautious using social media. The personal information consumers post to social networks is a cybercriminal's dream. These details can be used for a whole slew of illegal purposes, including figuring out answers to security questions for online accounts, tracking personal activities and even figuring out when people won't be home for an extended period of time.
Snow's Recommended Resources
Looks Too Good to Be True is a website that provides information about how to guard against Internet fraud.
The Safe Online Surfing Challenge is a resource for parents to help teach children to become savvy Web users.