Everyday, people fall victim to attackers that steal their personal data right out from under them. Passwords, emails addresses, phone numbers, bank accounts, credit cards, and more can all be compromised in the blink of an eye. Here are some easy tips to drastically increase your odds of thwarting these attacks.
1. Keep Everything up to Date
Nobody likes pesky pop-ups telling you to update your computer's operating system or web browser, but those updates are important.
Most updates contain security fixes, even though you don’t see them listed in the update notes. Software companies are constantly working to keep you secure from the latest threats, and installing these updates on a regular basis is an easy way to keep the bad guys out of your system.
2. Use Strong Passwords
The reality is that passwords are usually the only thing between your data and the outside world, so it’s important to choose passwords that aren’t easy to figure out.
- Use a different password for every login. That way, if one account is compromised, your others won’t be.
- Use long passwords - the longer the better. Having a password with a minimum of 8 characters will exponentially increase the attacker’s time needed to crack the passphrase.
- Use capital letters and numbers and don't pick common passwords. Password123 is almost always one of the first entries on a password-cracking list as it’s the most common password. Be creative when deciding your next password.
- Use 2-Factor Authentication. 2FA is an additional security step that requires a username and password, along with something only the individual has or knows. An example of this could be a fingerprint scan or a code texted to your phone number.
Password managers like LastPass, 1Password, and Dashlane can help you with all of the above. They generate secure passwords for you, save them in a secure place, and autofill them when you need to sign into a site.
There are also services like ';–have i been pwned? that can tell you if your login info has been breached and when, so you can change it if needed. All you need to do is type in your email address to see if your info has been compromised.
3. If You Didn't Go Looking for It, Ignore It!
The easiest way scammers get you to do what they want is to impersonate a real service you're using, like a credit card provider, bank, or online payment provider.
You may have heard the term “phishing emails” before. These are extremely well crafted emails that are designed to appear as though they’ve been sent from a legitimate company and can be indistinguishable from the real thing.
Let’s say you get an email from your bank asking you to log in to view a recent transaction. Most likely, they’ll provide a convenient link that will take you directly to your account.
Instead of clicking on the link, it’s a good idea to go to Google and find your bank's website yourself and log in from there. In our research, we’ve found a tool that can clone any website in seconds, making you think it's the legitimate website. As soon as you try to log in, the attackers have your login and password.
A similar thing can happen over the phone. Someone may call you pretending to be your bank, and they could possibly gather enough information about you and your business from looking around the web to convince you to divulge sensitive information.
If someone claiming to be your credit card company or another service contacts you out of the blue, don’t give out any personal or account info. Look up the company’s phone number and call them yourself to find out if the person who called you is legitimate.
4. Install Antivirus Software
We all download files from the internet. Who doesn't? The problem is, it's very hard to see what's inside those files. Antivirus software is an overlooked tool that can prevent headaches down the road. Companies like Symantec, McAfee, and Bitdefender offer antivirus software and work around the clock catching and analyzing new threats so they can be caught before they infect your system.
Keep your operating systems and web browsers up to date, use strong passwords, don’t click or give information to anyone or any website you didn't go to and find yourself, and have a good antivirus system watch over your computer.
Following these tips can’t guarantee that you won’t fall victim to an attack, but they’re good habits that will greatly decrease the likeliness of one happening to you.