In today’s high tech world, Internet use has become a common part of everyday life. And while cyber security is a concern for everyone online, those of us who didn’t grow up using the Internet may find ourselves more vulnerable to viruses, identity theft and other forms of cybercrime.
If you’re tech-savvy, you know you need to protect yourself online. But it can be hard to know exactly what to do to keep your information safe. To help, we’ve put together a list of 5 need-to-know tips for cyber security. Follow them to stay safer online this holiday season, whether you’re Christmas shopping or Skyping the grandkids!
1. Limit which sites have your personal information
When you make online purchases, you usually have the option of saving your financial and contact information for future use on that site. While it may seem convenient to do that, saving your information on multiple sites heightens your risk of data breaches. For safety’s sake, you’re better off re-entering your information each time you use a website.
Think about the websites on which you’ve stored information in the recent past, and delete any account data that isn’t absolutely required. Also consider keeping a list or spreadsheet of sites that have personal data stored about you, so you can be better aware about possible security issues. This list can include:
- Mortgage lenders or landlords
- Credit card companies
- Doctor’s offices and pharmacies
- Online retailers
- Online payment processors, like Paypal
- Social media sites
2. Set secure passwords
Your passwords for every site should be as secure as possible. This means using a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. While it’s tempting to use easy-to-remember passcodes like your birthday or address, this makes it all too easy for cyber thieves to access your information.
Many sites offer security questions in addition to passwords—use these whenever possible. Choose the most obscure questions or create your own, so the answers won’t be something that’s a matter of public record or something that could be easily found with a Google search. For example, instead of “Where did you go to high school?” try “What is your favorite TV show?”
Be sure to change your passwords regularly, too (some sites even demand it). However, it can be challenging to keep track of all these passwords, especially if you’re using random words or characters. If you’re concerned about remembering passwords, download a secure app like LastPass to help you keep track.
3. Beware of phishing
Phishing scams are a type of cybercrime in which hackers try to get you to give up sensitive information by appearing to be a legitimate entity. Phishing scams often come in the form of emails that look like they’re from your bank, your credit card company, or a trusted retailer – or emails saying that you’ve won money or some other kind of prize. Tips to avoid these scams include:
- Never open an email from someone you don’t know, or from an email address that looks spammy or fake
- Never respond to an email saying that you’ve won money, or requesting money from you, especially if it’s from a foreign email address
- Never “confirm” personal or financial information online – your bank, credit card and mortgage contacts already have that information and would never ask for it in an email
- Never click on links in suspicious emails
If you are in doubt about the validity of a request for information, you can always contact that institution by phone and ask if they have requested information from you.
4. Keep your computer up to date
Make sure to keep your computer up to date by running the latest versions of your operating system, browser, software programs and anti-virus programs. These updates provide security patches to prevent the most recent viruses and malware. You should also make sure your home Internet connection is secured with a password, and that you have a firewall activated.
If you keep a lot of important files on your computer, back your data up on an external hard drive or a cloud-based storage system. You should also have an emergency plan in place for if your data is lost or compromised. Keep a list of all sites where you would need to cancel credit cards, change PIN numbers or passwords, or report fraud or theft in the event of a data breach.
5. Be careful on social media
Though they are innocuous for the most part, social media and online dating sites can be rife with fake profiles and con artists who prey on seniors. It’s always better to be extra cautious before giving out personal information or meeting anyone you don’t know in person. Social media security breaches are particularly prone to turning into real life security problems.
Be careful about what information you share on social media. Don’t include your phone number or address on your profile, and avoid adding a location to the photos or posts you publish. Make sure that only your “friends” can see the information on your profile, and only accept friend requests from people you know in real life.
Computers are a wonderful way to make life easier and more fun. But everyone needs to exercise caution when it comes to sharing sensitive information online. To increase your peace of mind data security, check your banking and credit card statements frequently, and be sure to check your credit report at least once a year for any signs of identity theft. When you take a proactive approach to cyber security, you can rest easy when you go online.
Abby Perkins is Editor in Chief at Software Providers, a site dedicated to providing information about software, technology, business solutions and more.