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Reduce your data’s vulnerability by 85 percent with these 5 steps

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month — apropos, really, considering that T-Mobile, Scottrade and Dow Jones & Co. have all announced high-profile data breaches this month alone.

Hacks, thefts and data breaches are occurring with alarming regularity these days. In fact, Dell executive Jeff McNaught says that 79 percent of companies surveyed recently have experienced some type of significant security incident within the past year “that resulted in financial and / or reputational impact.”

That leaves us high-tech novices asking ourselves, “Is there anything I can do to protect myself?”

The answer, thankfully, is yes. In just five steps, in fact, McNaught said you can reduce your data’s vulnerability by up to 85 percent.

McNaught, executive director of marketing and chief strategy officer of cloud-client computing for Dell, laid out those five steps at the AICPA’s 2015 Global Manufacturing Conference:

  1. Update your desktop and mobile operating systems and apps frequently. “Those updates are released for a reason,” McNaught said. Usually, that reason involves a security fix of some kind. Updating your OS will ensure you have the latest security patches in place.
  2. Use better, longer passwords. McNaught recommends a unique, somewhat complex password for each site and service you use. Remembering those passwords won’t be easy, so he also recommends using a trusted password manager like 1Password.
  3. Be cautious with your downloads. “Download files only from trusted and established websites,” McNaught said.
  4. Power down your desktops and laptops completely when you’re not using them; don’t just put them to sleep. “That alone could reduce your vulnerability by up to 30 percent,” McNaught said.
  5. Encrypt the files on your employees’ machine — and do so by file, not by disk.

That’s it — five things we can do to become 85 percent more secure.

The next challenge, of course, is actually doing them.

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