Anyone who has paid attention to the news lately knows that cyberattacks are a real threat. Increasingly, large companies like Equifax and Target are becoming the victims of ever more sophisticated attacks. This could leave you with many questions, not to mention uncertainty. If large corporations can be taken down by cyberattacks, what can you possibly do to protect yourself? Thankfully, you have greater control than you might think. Here are some helpful tips that can allow you to protect yourself from what is becoming increasingly commonplace—cyberattacks, identity and personal information theft, and other digital threats.
1. Use strong passwords
Just as a locked door will stop all but the most determined of car thieves, a strong password will stop all but the most determined of cyberattackers and hackers. To help thwart would-be hackers, consider using a mneumonic device or pass-phrase as a password. Alternatively, use a password generator to create a random, sophisticated, incredibly strong password for each of your accounts. Yes, it’s true that you likely won’t be able to remember these random passwords, but you could always notate them on a secure local hard drive or single cloud account.
2. Never click links or open attachments in emails
Emails are typically used either in phishing schemes or as delivery devices for malware. For this reason, you should be incredibly wary of any email messages that seem fishy or suspicious. If you don’t recognize the originating email address, feel that the message is off in some way, or generally don’t trust the email, err on the side of caution. Don’t click on any links, open attachments, or respond in any way. Instead, submit the email to your email provider so that they can investigate. Many email providers, like Google, make it easy to report spam.
3. Don’t share personal information
Be very sensitive with the information you share online, via email, and even over the phone. Credit card numbers, bank account information, and social security numbers are popular targets for hackers and identity thieves. If you have any reason to believe that this information is being requested for illegitimate reasons, don’t provide it. For extra precaution, verify in person or over the phone with any party or company requesting this information. When it comes to protecting yourself and your personal information, sometimes you can’t be too cautious.
4. Keep software updated
Operating systems, web browsers, software programs, and digital apps should be kept updated at all times. Doing so will not only help improve functionality and eliminate bugs that may currently be plaguing you but can provide for much improved cybersecurity as well. In fact, many times, these updates are being published specifically to counter known security issues; if you don’t update, then you are exposing yourself to threats that have already been identified. Why take that risk when keeping your apps and software programs updated is so easy? In fact, you can even have these programs update automatically through customizing your settings.
5. Install anti-virus software
Anti-virus software represents another line of defense against malware and cyberattacks. Reputable anti-virus programs include AVG, Kaspersky*, McAfee, G Data, and Microsoft Windows Defender. Best of all, many of these programs are available free of charge, which means you can protect yourself without having to break the bank. Though an anti-virus software alone may not completely protect you against cyberattacks, they go a long way towards mitigating your risk and making your personal information more secure.
6. Be wary of open Wi-Fi networks
Public Wi-Fi networks may seem appealing, but, in general, you should avoid them. And that is because unsecured public Wi-Fi networks pose a risk to users, especially those who may be conducting sensitive tasks, such as online banking. Instead, use a mobile hotspot. Many carriers, like T-Mobile, offer mobile hotspots as part of their plans. With it, you can use your wireless plan to access the Internet from any connected device, including your laptop. You’re already paying for Internet coverage with your wireless plan; why not use this coverage on devices other than your smartphone?
7. Shop only from sites with secure address
Secure sites are the future of the Web. In fact, search engines like Google have long given priority to websites with a secure address, and will even alert you when you’re on an unsecured website. For peace of mind online, consider making purchases only from websites with an HTTPS web address. A traditional HTTP address indicates that the site lacks a security certificate or SSL. Secure addresses also feature a lock icon within the address bar, highly visible in green. Look for this icon when browsing the Web or shopping online.
8. If in doubt, check it out
Finally, if you have any doubts, do some Internet sleuthing. The odds are good that if the website or email is a fraud, someone else has already fallen victim to it and reported it. If you see that other people have experienced the same thing, that’s a good sign that you may be falling into a trap. Run the other way and report it to the Bureau of Consumer Protection. When it comes to protecting yourself against fraudulent offers, phishing scams, malware attacks, and other cons, it’s better to err on the side of caution. Yes, we’re repeating ourselves here, but to put it simply, trust your instincts!
Don’t become a victim – Protect yourself
You may feel powerless against cyberattacks, but there are plenty of things that you can do to protect yourself. Doing your due diligence, taking simple precautionary steps, and being mindful of potential scams can greatly reduce your risk. In everyday scenarios, strong passwords can protect your accounts against unlawful access, anti-virus software can protect your devices against malware, and common sense and a keen sense of caution can protect you against phishing scams and other cons. In the end, do whatever you feel is necessary to protect your personal, sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands.
Samantha Rivers is a freelance writer who lives in Chicago (Go Cubs!) and loves writing anything in the lifestyle, tech, travel, and career realm both online and print. When she's not running the Upward Onward blog, she enjoys reading, finding new restaurants, being active outside, and indulging in a glass of wine or two.