If you’re ever in the mood to scare yourself, enter the phrase “latest cybersecurity threats” in your search engine and notice how many hits you get. If you want an even bigger fright, take the time to read a few of the stories that come up. What you’ll learn is something you probably already suspected: every single day, hackers are out there, inventing new software viruses and refining old ones — working on more and better ways to get illegal access to your data.
Should you stop using your cards and disconnect your computer from the internet? Well, that’s not really a viable option either, in today’s society. So let’s review a few key habits you should form that will make you a harder target for hackers and increase your peace of mind while performing the dozens of necessary online tasks that are part of daily life.
1. Don’t send sensitive personal information via email.
Sure, it’s easy to just email your Social Security number, driver’s license number, or life insurance policy number to your agent, your banker, or a prospective employer — but don’t do it! Most email is not encrypted, and hackers can scoop your data. If the entity you’re dealing with doesn’t offer you a secure upload site for sensitive data, either fax it (to a carefully confirmed number that is attended to avoid prying eyes) or mail hard copies. For extra security, use a trackable method like US Postal Service Priority Mail or FedEx.
2. Monitor your accounts.
Most banks and credit card companies have greatly improved their fraud monitoring and alerting capabilities, but that shouldn’t relieve you from reviewing your account statements on a regular basis. Look for charges or payees you don’t recognize. Even a small charge of less than a dollar can signal that an identity thief has your number and is checking to see if it works. Chances are, the next charge won’t be so small.
3. Change your passwords periodically.
I know, I know… it’s a pain to change a password that you’ve finally memorized. But hackers use powerful programs that can crack passwords, and your best defense is to always present a moving target. Handy apps like Dashlane, Keeper, or 1Password can help you keep track of everything. (Pro tip: you also need to periodically change the password for your password manager app.)
4. Don’t be quick to click.
An innocent-looking link in an email or Facebook post — even if it’s from someone whose name you recognize — can lead down a rabbit hole toward a world of hurt. If the email is mostly blank except for the link, don’t click it. If it’s telling you about a prize you’ve won and all you need to do is click to claim it, don’t click it. If something looks odd — for example, the name of the sender is familiar but the email address isn’t — don’t click it. The same goes for many pop-up windows on web pages. Be careful where you click, and you’ll avoid tons of digital heartache. When in doubt, trash it.
Most of these safety tips involve lots of basic common sense. However, many of us tend to get in a hurry when we’re working online, and sometimes caution gets lost along the way. So take your time, engage your suspicious instincts, and stay safe out there!
Stay Diversified, Stay YOUR Course!