You've seen the headlines. It seems every week there's another hacking attempt or data breach in the news. As we spend more and more of our time online, the bad guys are getting more sophisticated in their attempts to steal our information. But there are some simple things you can do to improve your digital security and help protect your valuable data from criminals.
LOCK UP YOUR NETWORK
Using your computer without antivirus software is kind of like riding a bike without a helmet. Antivirus software from a reputable company can protect you in case you land in the wrong spot.
Just like you’d lock the doors to your house at night or when you’re not there, lock your computer and other devices. Make sure you use a strong password, otherwise a criminal could let themselves in and have free rein of your digital life. (Use a unique password on your Wi-Fi router, too.) And when you’re on your phone or laptop, resist the urge to use public Wi-Fi, because crooks may be able to see what you’re doing. Your phone’s cellular network is more secure, and an extra few bucks for going over your data plan is probably way cheaper than sorting out identity theft.
“PASSWORD” IS NOT A GOOD PASSWORD
Who would use such a silly password? According to the internet security firm SplashData, the second most popular password in 2017 was actually “password.” (At the top of the list was “123456.”) You might as well just leave the key to your front door on the porch. Experts advise using long, random passwords or sentences (which are meaningful only to you) that include letters (a mix of upper and lowercase), numbers and symbols. And you should use a different password for every site in case one gets hacked.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. That’s where password lockers come in. Online password locker services can help you create and store your passwords.
DOWNLOAD THOSE UPDATES
Software and operating system updates aren’t just about making Siri sound more friendly. They often also include security enhancements designed to prevent hackers from getting into your system. When you hit “download later” on a new update, you may be leaving a side door into your digital network wide open.
WATCH FOR PHISHING
Phishing is an attempt to trick you into providing something of value (a password, your data or money) through a fake email or other communication. And the phishers are getting really good.
Always check before you click a link or provide any information. No legitimate company will send you an email asking for your login or passwords — so don’t provide them in response to an email.
Never send money (wires or electronic funds transfers) on the basis of email instructions alone — always verify those instructions by calling the financial institution in question with a telephone number you already have on file or have found on the company’s official website.
PROTECT YOUR CREDITLast year’s Equifax breach was a wakeup call for a lot of people. Consider adding credit alerts or freezes as a layer of protection against fraudsters trying to open or use financial accounts in your name. You could also pay for credit monitoring services to notify you about activity on your accounts and help you report fraud you may encounter.
USE TWO-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION
The best security involves something you have, something you are and something you know. Two-factor or multi-factor authentication requires you to use two forms of authentication to get into a site. That typically includes something you know (such as your username or password), something you have (such as a code that is sent to you via text or email) or something that’s part of you (such as a fingerprint or facial image). If it’s offered, use two-factor authentication on all of your accounts, including email and financial accounts. Requiring this second step adds another layer of protection in case thieves manage to get your password — which hopefully won’t be “password.”
Just like you’d lock the doors to your house at night or when you’re not there, lock your computer and other devices.