When we’re young, we’re typically taught the importance of good personal hygiene. From brushing our teeth to taking showers, there are many things we need to do regularly to stay healthy and fend off disease. But physical hygiene isn’t the only smart set of habits that we need to make a routine out of. In our increasingly digital world, we also need to practice and encourage good cyber hygiene.

For many of us, our computers and internet-capable devices play a fundamental role in how we work, entertain ourselves, and communicate with our loved ones. Yet if we don’t take the proper steps to stay safe, they can also open us up to malware and cyber criminals. Practicing good cyber hygiene teaches people the practices and precautions need to keep sensitive data organized, safe, and secure from theft and outside attacks.

What is Cyber Hygiene?

The Center for Internet Security (CIS) and the Council on Cyber Security (CCS) defines cyber hygiene as a means to protect and maintain IT systems and devices and implement cyber security best practices. As the name might suggest, it can be compared to personal hygiene in some ways, as it is series of smaller practices that make up a larger routine that helps wards off natural deterioration. Just as neglecting your personal hygiene lead to a number of health issues, neglecting your cyber hygiene can open your data and devices to various cyber threats.

To help teach people how to protect themselves from cyber-attacks, the CIS and CCS introduced the Cyber Hygiene Campaign, with the goal of providing a low-cost program for enabling immediate and effective defenses against cyber-attacks. In their program, they list the following as the top priorities for good cyber hygiene:

  • Count: Know what’s connected to and running on your network
  • Configure: Implement key security settings to help protect your systems
  • Control: Limit and manage those who have administrative privileges for security settings
  • Patch: Regularly update all apps, software, and operating systems
  • Repeat: Regularly revisit these Top Priorities to form a solid foundation of cyber security

Most of these factors should be obvious: you should avoid running dubious software or visiting potentially harmful websites, along with keeping any unknown devices out of your network. Maintain regular and effective security settings, limiting who has the option to change your settings (it doesn’t matter if your network is secure if anyone can turn off your security solutions). Keep devices and software updated to avoid potential security breaches and apply continuous monitoring and mitigation to make sure everything stays secure.

Why is Cyber Hygiene Important?

Whether you’re a business owner looking to keep your company running smoothly or a parent who wants to keep their family safe, cyber hygiene is an important thing to teach. In a workplace setting, a single weak link in the cybersecurity chain is enough open your entire system to cyber-attacks. A recent study from Tessian found that 88% of data breaches come down to simple human error, with roughly half of all employees aged 18 to 50 being certain that they’ve made a mistake at work with security repercussions. This shows that business owners not only need to invest in security software, but they should encourage employees using their network to practice good cyber hygiene and safe surfing habits to mitigate potential risks.

The same holds true for parents: you might think that your kids know more about the internet and computers than you do, but they are often unaware of just how easy it is to fall prey to ransomware, data breaches, and other cybersecurity threats. Just using a weak password or downloading a vulnerable app is enough to expose yourself, and in some cases it can impact everyone on your network. So teaching your kids about proper cyber hygiene is useful both to your home network safe and to prepare them for the future of work.

Key Steps For Improving Cyber Hygiene

Cyber hygiene is a complex concept and there’s always room for improvement. If you are looking to strengthen your work or home network, consider these essential steps:

  • Install reputable antivirus and malware software
  • Keep a close eye on the hardware connected to your network
  • Use network firewalls
  • Update your apps, web browsers, and operating systems regularly
  • Delete or disable vulnerable applications that aren’t in use
  • Set strong and unique passwords for all your accounts
  • Consistently back up important data and keep multiple copies
  • Limit the number of users with administrative privileges
  • Use encryption on devices with sensitive data
  • Secure your router, using the highest level of encryption where possible

Most importantly, remember that good cyber hygiene is a routine, not a one-off process. You need to constantly review, update, and educate to ensure that your system is secure. The effort is worth it though, as it guarantees that the important people in your life are safe online safe.