CyberSecurity Awareness Tips

By Eric Andring, Information Security Officer, Bell State Bank & Trust

October is National CyberSecurity Awareness Month

With many personal and business accounts being online, how do you know if your email or social media accounts have been “hacked? “ (Hacked relates to someone gaining unauthorized access to one of your online email or social media accounts.)

You may recognize that you have been hacked if any of the following has occurred:

  • Your social media account shows posts from you that you didn’t create
  • Friends and family members have been receiving e-mails from you that you didn’t send
  • Your email sent folders contain messages you didn’t send
  • Your passwords for your email and social media accounts no longer work
  • If you recently opened any suspicious messages and have noticed activity as described above

What should you do if you have been hacked?  Recommendations for recovery are:

  • Install and scan your computer, smartphone, or other electronic device with an up-to-date and reputable Antivirus / Malware scanning tool and / or have it checked out by a service technician.
  • Change your online passwords – If you are unable to get into your account, someone may have compromised your password security and changed it. If one of your email or social media accounts has already been suspended, you may need to follow up with your provider to restore your account. Vendors will typically request that you complete a form or provide some proof to them before they will restore your account.
  • Review your account settings to ensure there aren’t any unfamiliar web links or messages within your social media or email signature. You will also want to verify your messages are not being automatically forwarded to someone you don’t know.
  • Notify your family and friends to let them know that your account was hacked and ask them to delete any unusual messages from you and not to click on links from emails you inadvertently sent them as a result of your compromised account.

Tips to avoid being hacked

Regardless of the type of online device you may be using, whether it is a computer, smartphone, or other electronic device, here are some security tips you can leverage at home or in the workplace:

  • Use Unique and strong passwords for all of your online accounts – Some best practices for creating strong passwords are:
    • Use long passwords as they are more difficult to compromise
    • Combine letters, numbers, and special characters
    • Avoid using your name, birthdate, or common words
    • Avoid using the same password for many accounts because if it is stolen, it can be used to take over all your accounts with the same password.
  • Do not trust public computers the same way as your personal computer – If the system you are using isn’t your own, don’t allow the web browser to remember your passwords, and make sure to log out of any accounts you accessed when you’re finished. Do not access personal accounts like email, bank accounts, or other financial services on public computers as they can often be already compromised.
  • Never reply to an unsolicited request via pop-up-messages, email, websites, attachments, or text message, asking for personal information. In most cases, the best approach to dealing with any suspicious messages is to simply ignore them and delete them.
  • Make sure your antivirus program and system operating system patches are current.
  • Beware of fraudsters trying to trick you into opening an attachment, message, or web link by making the subject interesting or concerning to you. Several common examples are: (You won a sweepstakes, Amazing news stories, Your account is frozen, Immediate action required, etc.)  If you are uncertain about a message you have received from a reputable company such as your utility company, bank, or credit card company, you can protect yourself by going directly to the company’s website or contacting the company directly via phone rather than using a link provided in the email or text message.

Remember:  The integrity of your privacy and security of your device depends on your judgment with managing your online safety practices. To read more about protecting yourself online, the following websites are very helpful:

  • The National Cyber Security Alliance sponsors a website called which provides safety tips for online personal or business activities.
  • The Department of Homeland Security, the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Anti-Phishing Working Group partner together to provide Cyber Security tips and best practices.


4 Responses to this post...

  • Dorthy P Johnson on Oct 7, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    Thanks to Bell State Bank for your history of rigid security policies. I now live in Oklahoma and have continued to bank with Bell State because of these policies. Appreciate your diligence!! Dorthy

  • jlarson on Oct 7, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    Dorthy, thank you for the positive feedback! At Bell State Bank & Trust, ensuring the privacy and security of our customer’s accounts and personal information is a top priority.

  • Craig Maas on Oct 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    What can you tell us about putting a Security Freeze on your credit. It seems like such an obvious solution that it should be on by default.

  • jlarson on Oct 8, 2013 at 4:23 pm #


    Great question! A credit freeze can be a good tool as it restricts anyone from pulling your credit report. However, there can be negative aspects to this. Any time you want to open a checking account, take out a loan, open a credit card or increase your credit card limit, you would have to authorize a temporary release. You may also need to authorize a temporary release when applying for a new job, renting an apartment/house or even buying a cell phone. There may even be a small fee to place the security freeze. This fee varies depending on which state you live in, and whether you have been a victim of identity theft. You also may need to pay a fee every time you want to authorize a temporary release.

    A credit freeze is a personal decision. You may want to ask yourself these questions: How comfortable am I with my credit information being secure? Am I ok with the occasional hassle of authorizing temporary releases, and possibly paying for them? For some people, this can depend on what stage of life they are in. If you are set with your job, credit cards, bank accounts, and housing (and not planning to refinance) then you would not be affected much by having a credit freeze in place.

    We hope this answer helps. If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact Jim Martin, our fraud officer, by calling 701-298-1607.

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