What can you, as a consumer do to protect your personal information online? We’re here to help.
1. Be Alert to Phishing
A phishing or email-based attack is a fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity. Phishing attacks fall into 4 categories:
- emails that impersonate a brand
- emails that impersonate a trusted individual
- emails that mimic a well-known domain
- emails from accounts that have been compromised (i.e. a cybercriminal has hacked into your friend’s email account)
The best form of defence against phishing is to be alert and never give sensitive information unless you can be sure you trust who you’re giving it to.
2. Only Give Your Info to Trusted Websites
The internet has made life incredibly convenient, allowing us to buy groceries, track our calories, and apply for a mortgage – all with just a few clicks. This convenience comes with one drawback: having to disclose personal details. Often, we’re asked to hand over really sensitive information, such as our social security number, annual income, or credit card. Before filling out an online form, always look for the SSL symbol at the top of the browser screen to confirm that your data is encrypted. Chrome and other internet browsers usually alert you when you try to access a website that lacks proper security credentials.
3. Have a Strong Password
There’s good reason websites often make you create a strong password when you sign up. That’s because one of the ways cybercriminals hacks into people’s accounts is by trying common number-letter combinations. The longer your password and the more number, letters, and symbols it contains, the harder to hack in. For the same reason, it’s a good idea to regularly change your password.
4. Don’t Post Sensitive Info on Social Media
Social media has made life easier for cybercriminals, because users frequently post personal information without even having to be tricked. When using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, or any other social media site, be cautious about how much personal information you post. The more you reveal, the easier it becomes for cybercriminals to steal your identity or use your personal information for malicious purposes.
5. Keep Your Anti-Malware Software Up-To-Date
Short for malicious software, malware gains access and gathers private information from your computer. Malware comes in many forms, such as viruses, spyware, and ransomware.
Cybercriminals may try to insert malware onto your computer by getting you to click on links in emails, social media posts, or text messages. If you receive something suspicious, delete it. For total protection, maintain up-to-date anti-malware and anti-virus software on your computer. The best antivirus providers include Bitdefender, BullGuard, McAfee, and Norton. These programs scan and remove malware from your computer before it is too late.
6. Take Security Precautions on Your Mobile
In the past few years, there has been a noticeable migration of internet users to mobile – with cybercriminals following closely behind. Just like there are antivirus programs for computers, there are powerful mobile security apps that protect us when we’re on our smartphones. These apps provide a secure connection for your messages, emails, and browsing, protecting your information from the prying eyes of hackers and cybercriminals.
7. Protect Your Home Network
Most households have multiple devices–including computers, smartphones, tablets, smart TVs, gaming consoles, and wearable devices–linked to the same wireless network. Home networks are a gold mine for hackers, so it is important to take precautionary measures. The National Cyber Security Alliance suggests 5 ways to secure your wireless router:
- Change the name assigned to your router by the manufacturer.
- Change the pre-set passphrase on your router.
- Review the scrutiny options.
- Create a guest passphrase for visitors to your home.
- Turn on the pre-installed firewall.
8. Install Parental Controls
As parents, there’s always a fine line between giving our kids the freedom to use technology and protecting them from the dangers. Obviously, the best way to protect your kids is to sit down with them and discuss responsible online behavior. The next line of defence is parental control tools. According to the Federal Trade Commission, these tools can be broken down into 4 different categories.
- Filtering and blocking tools: These limit access to certain sites, words, or images.
- Blocking outgoing content: This prevents kids from sharing personal information online or via email.
- Limiting time: Allows you to specify how much time per day your kids can access the internet.
- Monitoring tools: Alerts parents to online activity without blocking access.
9. Use a VPN
VPNs, or virtual private networks, are best known for helping internet users circumvent geo-blocks and access content from other countries. But VPNs also have a second important benefit: they protect you from malicious actors. A VPN hides your IP address, letting you surf the Internet anonymously and privately without any risk of having your identity revealed. The best VPN services include the following features:
- Kill switch: turns off your internet when your connection is compromised.
- Firewall: Protects against malicious users attempting to exploit your VPN connection.
- No-logs policy: Means the service provider does not retain any logs, which means there’s no information that could fall into the hands of the wrong people.
10. Register for ID Theft Protection Services
It has been estimated that 16.7 million Americans fell victim to identity theft in 2018, causing more than $16 billion in damage. Fortunately, there are plenty of good ID theft protection services that can help you out when your identity is compromised. The best providers monitor your credit card transactions and credit score and scour social media and the dark web for evidence your ID has been stolen or misused. In terms of recourse, these services offer reimbursement (usually up to $1 million), coverage for lawyers and experts, and identity restoration specialists to help put everything back together.
Be Alert, Not Alarmed
We know this sounds like a lot to worry about, so we’re here to say: don’t be alarmed. It can be helpful to think about internet use as like driving a car. Both activities carry risks, but the more aware you are of the risks–the lower your chances of being affected. You wouldn’t get behind the wheel without first learning how to drive safely and taking out vehicle coverage. Likewise, when going online, it’s a good idea to be aware of the security risks and to know how to protect yourself.