Did you play that interesting quiz on Facebook? Did you click on that email saying you won $100,000? Did you sign in to a game using your Gmail? If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you should be prepared to have your online identity stolen from you.
In this increasingly digital world, information security is of the utmost importance. Hackers and data thieves are everywhere. While you may think ‘why would a hacker be interested in me?’ it’s usually the common people who fall victim to such scams.
In the end, they lose their online identity, and in extreme cases, their financial data. So what can you do to protect yourself? Luckily there are some ways to do just that.
Mentioned below are some surefire ways to maintain your online security and keep those data thieves away.
Use an up to date anti-virus:
An up to date antivirus is one of the most basic steps to add security to your devices. An antivirus, from a trustworthy source can easily protect your devices from viruses that leak information. Cyber-attacks can leak a lot of data. Online personal security is no joke.
Antiviruses have evolved from their basic function and now provide many advanced features. They can protect against Trojan horses, worms, cyber bots, spyware, and rootkits (software that disguises viruses). Today, it is essential to invest in an antivirus software for all your devices, whether they are in your personal use or for your employees.
2017 was the year of security breaches, with multiple companies getting hacked, e.g. Equifax, a credit bureau, lost personal data and social security numbers of almost 145 million people.
In May 2017, WannaCry, by far the biggest hack in recent years, started targeting computers running outdated Windows software and locked them down. This left companies utterly helpless and Microsoft had to cover things up with an update patch.
Use two factor authentication:
Two Factor Authentication (also known as 2FA) requires users to receive a text message with a specific code, which is used to complete a log in attempt. While your password is your first layer of security to your account, the text message code requirement adds another layer of security. Obviously, this is more secure, as only you would have access to your cell phone.
According to an article by NBC News, Robb Reck, chief information security officer of Ping Identity, an identity security company, said,
“While you may think of your financial accounts as the highest risk, it’s actually your email account that allows hackers to go through and reset all your passwords on those other sites.”
While 2FA adds an extra step to your log in process, it shouldn’t be forgone, when it comes to your account security. Essentially, once you log in with one device using 2FA, you won’t be required to do so again.
Stop taking online quizzes:
You know those quizzes that pop up on your Facebook feed that all your friends are taking? You see posts about the day they’ll die, the next vacation you’ll take, the perfect partner or the meaning of your name?
Well, all those quizzes require you to log in from your Facebook profile and they take important information from your account, such as your date of birth, your middle name, your hometown and what not.
They can even get information about who your friends are and which of them are your trusted contacts. Most of them are just click-bait and get you to divulge information about yourself. Some are ways to get traffic to a particular site. Some quizzes are scams and collect money for a ‘worthwhile’ cause. Some quizzes are just another way to bombard you with ads. Either way, they waste your time and may even be jeopardizing your security.
Pages like Buzzfeed, College Humor and etc. will generally not ask you for Facebook authentication so those are safe to use. The easiest way to stop this breach of information is to quit playing such quizzes and games. You can also go onto the ‘approved applications’ page on your Facebook account and delete any suspicious looking applications that have access to your data. Here are some simple steps on how to protect yourself against online scams and identity theft.
Get a password manager:
Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Google Docs, Dropbox, Evernote etc. – every account requires a login username and password. And if you’re using similar passwords for all or some of your accounts, your chances of getting hacked are increased.
It is notoriously easy for hackers to figure out a password and use it in 10 different places to gain access to your data. ”What criminals do is they go through and try and reuse your same password for all your other accounts,” states Robb Reck of Ping Identity, in an article by NBC News.
To secure your accounts, use a different password for each account and use 2FA (as mentioned above). The key to creating a difficult to hack password is using alphanumeric characters.
Of course, no one can go around memorizing every single password they ever entered. Short of writing down every password in your journal, you’d pretty much go crazy trying to access your accounts.
Get a password manager to overcome this problem. Password managers allow you to create strong passwords and you don’t even have to remember them! The app does it for you. Lastpass and 1Password are two of the best on the market. Both are available for iOS and Android.
Use a virtual private network:
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the US can now sell your data to advertisers and marketers. This means that anything you search, any email you send, any picture you download or upload, any web page you visit or any message you send can now be sold to third parties. This means that anything you do online is basically up for grabs.
The easiest way around this is to use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN basically creates an encrypted connection between your computer and the ISP. This way, you have online anonymity and privacy, so that no one can spy on what you’re doing. It creates a secure private network just for you, whether you use your personal or public Wi-Fi.
Some VPN providers may keep a track on your data. The best way to find out is to read their privacy policies. However, most VPNs flourish on their reputation of not tracking data, unlike ISPs, so you have little to worry about.
According to a report by FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, in 2016, $48,000 were lost because of online credit card fraud, affecting 16,000 US citizens.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi:
According to privatewifi.com, 76% of people believe that public Wi-Fi can lead to online identity theft, but still use it anyway. While VPNs can make public Wi-Fi secure for use, it is recommended that you not use public Wi-Fi at all. The reason for this is simple. Public Wi-Fi gives hackers and data thieves a greater advantage over you. They can easily manipulate data and push scams.
Falling victim to public Wi-Fi scams is a matter of when, not what if. However, if you must use a public Wi-Fi, remember to follow these simple rules:
- Do not shop online with your credit card
- Do not visit sensitive sites or access information such as your bank account
- Keep your Bluetooth off, so that nearby devices cannot pair with yours
- Do not visit websites with HTTP. Instead opt for those with HTTPS, which are more secure
Staying secure online can be tricky but the key is to remain vigilant. Use a good antivirus, implement two factor authentication, avoid public Wi-Fis when you can, employ the use of a VPN and get a password manager. Moreover, never download any suspicious-looking app that may be spam. With these tips, you’re on your way to safer and more secure online experience.
Has your security been jeopardized? Were you able to ascertain what led to it? Share with us in the comments below.
ABOUT Alycia Gordan
Alycia Gordan is a freelance writer who loves to read and write articles on healthcare technology, fitness and lifestyle. She is a tech junkie and divides her time between travel and writing. You can find her on Twitter: @meetalycia