We have seen a number of high-profile data breaches over the last year. Companies like LinkedIn, eHarmony, Yahoo, Last.fm, Dropbox, name.com, and Twitter, among others, have all had customer data compromised. As a result, these companies suffered a serious blow to their security reputation. We can learn a lot about online safety from these unfortunate events. As a consumer, there are a number of things you can do at home to help protect your personal data too. Below are a few tips to help protect you online:
Don’t use a simple or common password to protect your accounts. Passwords like “password,” “123456, “qwerty” and “password1” are commonly used by consumers, and can make accounts fairly easy to compromise. Using simple passwords instead of something more secure, like a mix of characters, numbers, and symbols, can be the difference between having your account hacked, or not. If your password is simple, you risk having all of your emails copied, and your address book stolen. With access to that data, gaining additional access to the online services you use is the next step.
Try using a password that is at least 8 characters long, contains upper & lowercase letters, numbers, special characters, and is not based on dictionary words. Also consider using phrases as your password – switching out characters for numbers or special characters.
Examples of strong passwords:
1l0v3mYPet5 (Based on phrase I Love My Pets)
S@mNic0l3@mY (Names of your 3 kids – Sam Nicole Amy)
Try to avoid using the same password at different sites. If a site you use is breached, having various passwords on different accounts will make it more difficult for hackers to use the information gained from one site to access your information on another. If you insist on using a common password, at least select a challenging password for the account breaches that could pose the most risk such as your ecommerce/banking accounts and social networking accounts.
As websites are increasingly giving users the ability to sign up for accounts using their social networks (e.g. Facebook account, Twitter account, etc.), it’s particularly important to make sure those passwords are failsafe. At GiftCards.com, for example, you can order discount gift cards by signing up socially, or with an e-mail address. The more you employ your social network account to access other accounts, the more critical having a strong password becomes.
Mobile devices soon will outnumber the human population. With the rise in things such as mobile payments, you must not forget about protecting your smartphone or tablet, too. First, be sure to password-protect your device. Then, invest the time to research the available security options and applications for your smartphone or tablet. Remember, hackers don’t just try to attack your desktop or laptop; they will go after any internet-connected device.
Proper security is necessary in today’s online world. Viruses and other malicious items change regularly; so your security software (and operating system) requires updating to help protect you from danger. Don’t let yourself be exposed by failing to install necessary security updates to the software that is projecting you.
Think before you click; avoid clicking on random links sent to you. There are many scams out there that randomly tweet or message you with links that say “I’ve found a picture of you; click here to see it” with the intent of infecting your machine with malware or to perform other malicious actions. Before you actually click a link, consider how well you know the sender and read the message to decipher potential spam. Pay attention to the URLs of websites; malicious sites may look very similar to a legitimate site but the malicious URL may have a slight variation in the domain name (example: www.g1ftcards.com instead of giftcards.com). Many email clients and web browsers offer anti-phishing features; be sure to always have these enabled and update them often.
Though it’s impossible to predict where the next security breach will occur, with just a few simple steps, you can plug the biggest security holes in your life and avoid the most likely scenarios when it comes to breaches in online security.
~~ Kyle Fulton