5 Tips to Protect Your Digital Life in 2017

By George Otte

The cyber-threat landscape has never been more complicated. And, as our digital and analog selves inexorably combine, the risks to our personal and financial security have never been greater.

However, this isn’t cause for despair — merely increased vigilance. Simply by taking the time to educate yourself about the most common threats to your digital security, and taking commonsense steps to protect yourself online and offline, you’ll find yourself ahead of the majority of your peers.

Not sure where to start? As we move into 2017, use these five simple “hacks” — many of which are explained in detail in this excellent Laptop Magazine article — to protect your digital assets.

1. Confirm Network Identity Before Connecting

First things first. If your device is configured to automatically connect to open WiFi networks (a common setting on mobile devices) in public, turn that capability off.

Think of WiFi connectivity like a job interview: you always want the leverage. That leverage is lost the moment you connect to an open WiFi network, at which point your computer (and all the devices, passwords, and personal information to which it’s connected) becomes vulnerable to malicious actors who may want to do you harm.

Next, before you connect to a network, confirm that it’s the correct one. Clever hackers sometimes camp out in public areas (coffee shops, hotel lobbies) and set up “dummy” networks that resemble trusted local networks. For instance, “Peet’s Coffee Guest” might be a safe, sanctioned, fully secured network; “Peet’s Coffee WiFi” might be a dummy network designed to catch careless surfers. When in doubt, ask trusted staff members.

2. Use a VPN

There are plenty of reasons to take steps to conceal your identity and location while surfing the web. In fact, cybersecurity experts make a convincing case that everyone should take this step, absent specific rationales against doing so (for instance, triggering location-specific shopping deals). Look for paid VPNs that always safeguard your identity — though free options exist, they’re generally not as secure, and reliable protection is worth a few dollars per month.

3. Control Your Sharing Settings

If you regularly use your computer in public, restrict your sharing settings so that your computer is only visible to trusted machines in private networks. Otherwise, everything on your computer (including passwords and financial data) could be visible to potential cyber-criminals.

4. Protect Your Passwords (And Use More Than One!)

Password protection is absolutely critical. Millions of consumers continue to use easily cracked passwords such as “password1” or their first and last names to protect sensitive data: bank and credit card logins, tax returns, health records.

Don’t fall into this seductive trap. Use unique passwords for every login, so that a breach in one part of your digital life doesn’t affect the rest. Don’t store these passwords online, where they’re vulnerable to hackers; instead, write them down and place them in a secure location (ideally a fireproof box) or use an encrypted cloud storage service.

5. Invest in an Anti-Virus

Anti-virus software can’t detect and neutralize every threat, but it’s certainly better than leading your system totally unprotected. The best systems offer comprehensive protection against the many forms of malware, plus additional security measures for sensitive activities (such as logging into bank websites). Your peace of mind is worth the annual cost.

Is Total Protection Possible?

Following these tips and taking additional precautions to safeguard your digital life can certainly increase your chances of protecting yourself against many cyber threats, but unfortunately not all. After all, cybersecurity is complicated: for every neutralized threat, a new one appears in its place.

Some may ask why we bother to take protective measures at all. Fair question. Optimists know that basic protective action can both dramatically reduce the risk of damaging breaches and shorten recovery time when they do occur. Simply by being prepared for the unknown, you’re in a better position than most of your peers.

George Otte’s Top 4 Tips on How to Pick Your Moment

Is starting a business high on your to-do list this year? Your timing might be impeccable — or it might be a good idea to reassess.

How can you tell the difference? Entrepreneur George Otte suggests that you use these four tried-and-true tactics to determine whether it really is the best time for you to strike out on your own.

Wait Till You’ve Spotted the Perfect Opportunity

Even if you’re not a certified expert, it’s possible to spot a business opportunity in virtually any industry. Has there been a major shift in consumer tastes that you can make use of? Are there existing products or services that you can bundle in value-added fashion? Does your local market lack some essential product or service? If you’ve said “yes” to any of these questions, you might be onto something.

Be Bold. Be Confident

After a stock market sell-off, bargains are bound to be found amid the wreckage. The same principle can work for general business, too. After an economic downturn or sector contraction, your industry’s incumbents are likely to be under pressure. Some may be willing to sell out for less than their business is worth, or at least sell you some assets on the cheap. Others may go out of business entirely, creating a vacuum that your new business is primed to fill.

Have a Top-Notch Team in Place

These days, many companies begin as one-man or -woman operations. But if you’re going into a more labor-intensive niche, it helps to have a quality team in place before you hang your shingle and announce your intentions to the wider world. If you can’t sell your vision to prospective employees, your timing might not be right.

Make the Business Case

Businesses fail for many reasons. One of the most common: money — or the lack thereof. Before you invest a great deal of time, energy and personal resources into your business idea, make sure that others are (literally) interested in what you’re selling.

On the one hand, you’ll need to confer with investors (who may well be your friends and family) to determine whether you’ve really got a killer product (or app). Are they willing to put their money where their faint words of praise are?

On the other, you’ll need to do some market research (or old-fashioned prospecting, depending on your line of business). Do theoretical customers really want to buy your products or services? Or is your business going to be DOA?

The two sides of this coin are linked, of course. Investors aren’t likely to support a business idea that doesn’t have much support on the consumer side. And, though they might not be able to tell right away, customers aren’t likely to stick with an underfunded business that can’t meet their expectations for service or quality.

Your Best Employees Will Have These 5 Traits

How’s business these days?

If you’re still in startup mode, chances are you’re struggling to find the right talent for your expanding operation.

The United States faces a talent shortage of epic proportions. Employers everywhere are struggling to fill skilled jobs, whether they’re on the front lines of healthcare or responsible for bringing goods from point A to point B. According to a recent Manpower survey, one in three of all U.S. employers struggled to fill jobs last year, and nearly 50 percent say these troubles had an adverse effect on their businesses.

Virtually no industry is unscathed. No matter what your company does (or hopes to do, let’s be real), it’s probably suffering from a lack of top-tier candidates with the smarts and skills necessary to keep your company one step ahead of the competition.Before you jump into the hiring game, set some basic expectations for job candidates — and don’t compromise.

Entrepreneur George Otte suggests that you look for soon-to-be-employees with these five basic skills and competencies. As your business grows, they’re likely to be the ones pushing it forward.

  1. Willingness to Learn New Skills

These days, even the biggest businesses require employees who are willing and able to learn new skills as the times demand. As technological advances shake established industries to their foundations, it’s critical to seek out talent that understands the value of staying one step ahead of the latest trends. In an upstart business, this is doubly important — and could make the difference between life or death.

  1. Honesty and Accountability

Inc Magazine notes, correctly, that companies need to be able to hold their employees accountable for their actions — good or bad. It’s often said that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission, but it’s even more important to remember that — at least in the modern workplace — the cover-up is worse than the crime. Don’t hire employees who do their best work when they’re looking for ways to pawn off their failings on others.

  1. Creativity and Perspective

If you’re choosing between two equally qualified candidates, the tie should always go to the one who exhibits the greatest range of perspectives and breadth of creativity. You never know when such “soft” skills will come in handy. They could form the basis of your company’s next big thing.

  1. Levelheadedness

There’s much to be said for employees who are calm under pressure, even when a million different signals are screaming at them to be otherwise. Ask yourself this: When all the chips are down and it’s make or break time, would you rather have a cool cucumber or a hot potato by your side?

  1. Diligence and Perseverance

When you’re fighting tooth and nail to get your business off the ground, you need employees who are willing and able to go to the mat for you — employees who you can trust to do what you say, when you say it, and maybe throw in a few extra bells and whistles for good measure.