'Act now, stay secure': the three key steps to keep safe online

By Michelle McGuinness
July 1 2024 - 5:30am

As a nation, we are spending more time online and have integrated technology into our everyday lives.

WATCH: The number of data breaches around the world has tripled in the past couple of years

While doing this makes our lives easier in many ways, it also exposes us to significant harm through cybercrime.

A cyber attack is reported in Australia every six minutes.

The human face of these harms is diverse. Australians of all ages and backgrounds are susceptible.

At the same time, every Australian has a responsibility and role to play in helping to safeguard against cyber attack.

It's likely we all know at least one family member or friend who has had their social media accounts compromised before their profiles are hijacked to scam money out of innocent, trusting Australians, or know someone who has fallen victim to this crime themselves.

Stories like this are becoming an all too often occurrence. If it feels like cyber attacks have become more frequent, that's because they have.

In the 12 months to July 2023, the Australian Signals Directorate received nearly 94,000 cybercrime reports. And I think what's being reported to our technical experts is just the tip of the iceberg of what's really happening.

We also saw more than 33,000 calls to the Australian Cyber Security Hotline in the same period - that's 90 calls every day.

As the volume and sophistication of cyber attacks continues to increase, there is an urgent need for Australians to be savvy about their cyber security.

There are simple steps to keep you safer online. Picture Shutterstock
There are simple steps to keep you safer online. Picture Shutterstock

Research tells us many Australians want to be in control of their cyber security, but feel helpless and have lost motivation to act, driven by a belief that whether they fall victim to cybercrime or not is largely out of their control.

That, of course, isn't true. There are simple steps everyone can take while online that will make a significant difference to their cyber security.

These include:

  • Setting up multi-factor authentication;
  • Installing software updates regularly; and
  • Creating strong and unique passphrases.

We live in a digital-focused world. That's why it's important we all keep personal cyber security top of mind.

In my role as National Cyber Security Coordinator, I want to encourage Australians to build their knowledge and skills to better protect themselves online.

The Australian government's "Act Now, Stay Secure" campaign lays out three key and simple measures everyday Australians can take to protect themselves and make our country a less attractive place for cyber criminals to operate.

Multi-factor authentication, or MFA for short isn't new technology, but it is a layer of protection that should be used when available online. It adds an extra layer of security by requiring two or more actions to verify your identity.

For example, MFA might send you a prompt through an app to confirm it is actually you trying to log into an account. It could be the difference between a hacker getting access to your social media or bank account.

Regular software updates help to keep your devices secure. I recommend turning on automatic updates, and downloading updates as soon as they are available. Keeping your devices and software updated is crucial, because updates often include fixes for security weaknesses that have been discovered.

The longer you leave these updates, the longer you could be vulnerable to a cyber attack.

The days of using passwords like password123, qwerty and 123456 are long behind us.

Instead, you should be using strong and unique passphrases. A passphrase should be a combination of four or more random words that exceeds 14 characters. They are harder to crack, but easier for you to recall. For instance, "Red house train sky" is more secure than a simple password, but easy to remember.

You should be using different passphrases for each of your accounts, too, so that all of your accounts aren't vulnerable if one passphrase is compromised. It may seem like a hassle, but a password manager can help you keep these organised.

If you're reading this, I would encourage you to spend 10 minutes today looking at how cyber secure you are and what else you can do to keep yourself safe online. Those 10 minutes today could save you a lot of time, stress, and money down the track. For us to be a secure nation, we all need to be cyber secure.

  • Lieutenant-General Michelle McGuinness is the National Cyber Security Coordinator.