Do you have a love/hate relationship with the internet? If you’re like most people, you rely on the ease and convenience it brings to your life. Forgot to order your mom a birthday present? You can have it shipped same-day. Need to avoid road construction on the way to your son’s soccer game? Google maps to the rescue. Oftentimes, it seems Siri and Alexa are better than our spouses at figuring out what we want.
But it’s a bit creepy, too. The price of all this convenience is that most of us are, on an hourly basis, trading away bits of our personal privacy. It’s tempting to throw up your hands in surrender. After all, functioning in the modern world requires some level of connectivity. Isn’t everyone at risk?
The answer, of course, is yes. There are, however, some simple things you can do to make it harder for criminals to hack into your personal data:
- Pay attention to your browser bar. The little padlock icon, when closed, indicates that the website you are visiting is secure. The URL should also begin with “https.” It’s not an absolute guarantee that the website is safe, but it does mean that communications between your computer and the website are encrypted, making it harder for hackers to break in.
- Practice password safety. We could devote an entire article to this issue alone. Main points? Make passwords long and strong, don’t share them with others; and mix them up (you aren’t still using one word across multiple sites, are you?) See more tips at www.connectsafely.org.
- Use encrypted payment options when possible. PayPal, Apple Pay, Google Wallet and similar payment platforms offer an additional security wall for online transactions. And never enter your credit card number or other personal info on a site that isn’t secure.
- Don’t overshare on social media. There are many reasons to be careful on social media, but think about this: raw data may not be overly useful to hackers, but social media could provide the clues they need to do real harm. Social media sites have recently revamped their privacy policies. Check your settings regularly and use care when posting personal info.
- Be wary of suspicious emails. It’s called phishing–hackers send out an official looking email alerting you of a problem. Even if it looks authentic, never click the links or open attachments. If you suspect an issue with an online account, go directly to the company website to investigate. In general, it’s best to delete emails from sources you don’t know.
- Minimize your use of public networks. No one wants to go over their data limit. But tapping into free public wifi is like opening up your system for the world to see. And never login to bank accounts, make credit card payments, or do anything involving sensitive data when on a public network.
- Keep your operating systems up-to-date. Cyber criminals are constantly adapting to new technologies. Software updates include defenses against malware, viruses and other vulnerabilities. If you’re running old programs, they can’t protect you from the latest risks.
- Disconnect from the internet and turn off your computer. Like an unlocked door, when you leave websites open, it increases the odds that someone can get in from outside. If you aren’t using the internet, close down the windows. Always log out of websites after handling financial transactions. And if you won’t be using your computer for awhile, it’s safest to power it down completely.
The reality is, even if you are cautious with your personal data, unless you’re willing to unplug completely, there’s no fail-safe way to protect yourself from becoming a victim of cyber crime. Staying vigilant can help you thwart hackers before they wreak havoc on your life.
Get in the habit of doing these things regularly:
- Backup your data.Use a purchased hard drive, or a cloud-based service. If losing certain data would pose a serious hardship for you, make 2 copies and store one in a remote location.
- Check financial statements weekly. And pay attention to small transactions. Criminals will often do tests to try to fool your credit card’s fraud alert systems. Report any suspicious activity to your bank immediately.
- Ask for email alerts for transactions. Ask your bank and/or credit card company if they offer this service. It will help you spot fraudulent charges so you can quickly cancel your card if need be.
- Get a copy of your credit report once a year. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, report it. If you have minor children, you should also check their credit reports for activity that could be a sign of identity theft.
There is also another defense: You can invest in an identity theft protection service. These services can’t prevent a cyber crime, but they make it much easier to recover from one. General Southwest, through a partnership with Merchants Information Solutions, offers identity restoration and recovery services for individuals and families. You can choose from a variety of packages designed to secure your personal information, reestablish your credit history, and restore your reputation.
Written by Lisa Binsfeld.
The following sources were referenced for this article. Click the links to read more:
Digital Guardian.com, 101 Data Protection Tips
Forbes.com, Five Easy Habilt to Keep Your Data Safe