No matter how tech savvy you are, cybersecurity should be top of mind anytime you use the internet. If that sounds overwhelming, don’t stress. You don’t need to be an expert. Good cybersecurity isn’t complicated. Whether you’re messaging with friends, streaming music, watching movies, buying clothes, or paying bills, there are basic cybersecurity rules anyone can follow.
The first line of defense against hackers and thieves who want your personal and financial info is to make sure the antivirus software on your device is up-to-date. Antivirus software helps protect against malware, which is a file or code that can infect your device, steal sensitive information, and more. If you don’t use antivirus software, there are reputable providers who offer basic versions for free. Just make sure you run the software’s updates as they are available.
To go beyond the minimum, it may be worth the money to subscribe to security software that protects specifically against more dangerous types of malware, like spyware, which mines your personal info, and ransomware, that encrypts your files until you pay a ransom to regain access. Do your research to make sure the security software you subscribe to is legitimate and worth the cost.
Go a step further in protecting your online activity with a virtual private network, or VPN. A VPN is an encrypted internet connection between a device and a network. It protects sensitive data and blocks unauthorized access to your traffic and identity.
VPNs are common in corporate environments, so if you work remotely, you may already use a VPN to access your employer’s server. But they are also useful if you frequently connect to the internet using public Wi-Fi. VPNs also protect against your data being sold by your internet service provider. (Yep, that’s a thing.)
If you’re trying a VPN for the first time, go with an established provider who has good reviews and a money-back guarantee. Make sure the VPN does not track your internet traffic or sell your data to third parties—many free VPN services do. Look for a simple, user-friendly interface and good customer service, preferably with 24/7 live chat.
Your personal online behaviors are a valuable protection against cyber threats. Limit the personal information you share online. This includes:
- credit card and bank account numbers
- phone number
- other identifiers
It’s also smart to think twice before posting social media comments with personal thoughts and details about your life. True, hackers can use this information to guess passwords or as part of impersonation schemes, but your public social media posts could also hurt your relationships or career.
Remember, you can’t control how your opinions are perceived and it’s almost impossible to remove something entirely once it’s posted online. Current or potential employers may monitor your social media, and the more information that’s out there, the more likely it can be used against you. So be smart about what you say online.
Protect yourself on social media by adjusting your privacy settings and options.
- Restrict who follows you on social media. Consider limiting how much colleagues and other professional acquaintances know about your personal life.
- Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
- Block your tweets and posts from search engines, so they’re only visible to your followers. Remember that any follower can screenshot what you write, even if they can’t retweet it.
- Don’t link your social media accounts. Anytime you link an account, you’re increasing the visibility of whatever you post across multiple platforms. Personal information that’s available in many places makes you more vulnerable to phishers.
- Don’t post personal information that is commonly used for passwords or password security questions, like the name of your elementary school or first pet’s name. Avoid posting about where you bank and shop. Even seemingly harmless facts can help scammers locate you.
- Don’t post anything you don’t want the world to read.
Use strong, unique passwords on every site where you have an account. This is crucial for sites that access confidential personal or financial information.
Too obvious passwords provide no protection. The same goes for reused passwords. If a hacker cracks one account, they’ll try that password for every single account connected to your email address.
You’re not alone if you find it difficult to keep track of all those different password combinations. Try a password manager. A password manager creates, encrypts, and securely stores your passwords in a vault and you can access any of those passwords with a single complex password.
Password managers can also store other info like credit card numbers and PINs. Many reputable password managers offer a basic service for free, with a small fee for premium features or multiple devices.
Scammers are getting more sophisticated with email and text messages, so don’t click any links or open attachments from sources you don’t recognize. They may even send links to websites that look exactly like a website you trust. Look for other telltale signs that a message is a scam.
- Incorrect company names or URLs. Scammers often use slightly different spellings or extensions to trick you into thinking they’re legit.
- Poor spelling and grammar. Real companies don’t often make typos and definitely check spelling before sending messages to clients.
- Generic greetings. Official messages are nearly always personalized with your name instead of a generic greeting.
- Urgent calls to action. Keep an eye out for red flags like “your account is suspended, ”reset your account password now,” or other high-pressure calls to action.
Online shopping is common and generally safe. That said, always look for a security padlock symbol to the left of the company’s name in the URL bar. Click this icon to visit the site’s security certificate.
Double-check the URL begins with HTTPS. This indicates the data you send and receive is encrypted.
If you still want to buy from a vendor that’s selling directly on social media or want to use a site without proper security in place, it’s best to use a service like PayPal.
Your PayPal account is linked to your credit card or bank. Purchases you make via PayPal are encrypted and the seller has no access to your account number. Still, anytime you use PayPal, make sure your security software is updated and avoid any financial transactions using public Wi-Fi.
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