The year 2017 saw devastating data breaches involving massive companies like Equifax and Facebook that put millions of people’s personal information at risk. While corporate data breaches are out of your control, here are some things you can do to protect your data online.
Choose a Strong Password
We know you love your dog, but the password “rufus123” isn’t going to cut it. Internet hackers know the types of bad passwords everyday people like to use. That’s why it’s essential you put some effort into devising strong ones.
The best passwords are longer, more “random,” and use combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Also: avoid using the same password more than once, and change/update them frequently.
Check Your Digital Footprint
Have you ever tried Googling yourself? It’s not just act of narcissistic curiosity anymore! Keeping tabs on what’s in the public record is a smart way to understand your digital footprint and see what strangers — friendly or not-so-friendly — can find out about you.
While a simple Google search will give you some idea, we recommend using a dedicated people search engine, which allows you to search yourself by name, home address, phone number or email address. Sites like these bring together billions of public records to build a comprehensive report on anyone you search, whether yourself, a suspicious neighbor, a date, or a lost family member.
A reverse email search is particularly useful, as it will bring up any social media profiles created over the years. You may be surprised to find old photos and bad high school poetry still floating around.
Use an Anti-Virus Software
Anti-virus protection software is an important way to protect your data. Even the savviest computer geek isn’t immune to clicking on a spam link or accidentally downloading malicious malware. You have lots of solutions to choose from, but be aware there are also fake anti-virus softwares that are viruses themselves!
Secure Your Browser
Whether you’re using Firefox or Chrome, periodically check your browser settings. Be careful installing plugins or extensions, as these can be forms of third-party viruses that track your data or barrage you with pop-ups. Review this handy guide for surfing safely.
Beware of Online Scammers
An endless variety of online scams are out there, from phishing emails (messages that redirect you to a fraudulent website in hopes of getting you to enter your data), to fake bitcoin exchanges and even “catfish” romance scams on dating sites. Although their methods may vary, online fraudsters are essentially all confidence tricksters: they want to secure your trust so that you let your guard down. Don’t let them. Avoid opening emails, texts, security alerts and so forth from people you don’t know. Don’t share personal information unless you know the person asking for it.
If you want to know who’s emailing or calling you, do a background search to verify their identity. If you don’t recognize them, back away.
An Byte of Prevention, a Gigabyte of Cure
With so much of our lives taking place online, it’s easy to let your guard down. But by taking a few precautions, you can not only protect your data, but also save yourself years of heartache and financial damage from dealing with issues like identity theft and infected computers. It might take time to get in the habit, but it’s worth it.