If you’re not worried about cybersecurity, you should be. Data breaches affected 188 million people in the United States in 2021, and that’s not even counting attacks by ransomware and other malware, like malicious documents. You need to do everything you can to protect yourself, because you will be targeted – in fact, if you’ve ever received a phishing email, you’ve been targeted already.
Staying cyber-safe is a matter of protecting your sensitive information with unique passwords, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and comprehensive antivirus software. You need to safeguard your online activity by using a virtual private network. Protect your devices from theft, and stay vigilant, especially when you’re checking email or interacting with friends on social media.
You absolutely can’t be reusing the same password for every one of your online accounts or even for multiple of your online accounts. If you do that, and hackers get ahold of one of your passwords – say, in a data breach – then all of your accounts will be compromised.
Instead, create unique and strong passwords for each and every one of your online accounts. The easiest way to do this is by using a password manager. A password manager can help you generate strong passwords that consist of random strings of letters, numbers, and special characters, and it will store them for you, too. You’ll be able to use just one set of login credentials to access your password manager, and then you’ll be able to copy and paste your secure passwords into your login accounts. Change your passwords every three months to make them harder for hackers to get hold of.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA) is a feature that creates extra security for login accounts because it requires you to submit extra information when you try to login to the account using your username and password. You’ll be asked to enter a passcode texted to your phone, for example, or click on a link in an email sent to an alternate address. MFA can help keep hackers out of your login accounts, even if they manage to get their hands on your passwords. And if you start getting weird messages asking you to verify your login for something, you’ll know that someone is actively trying to hack into that account.
If you can’t afford to pay for an antivirus program, a free program is better than nothing. But a paid program offers more features and, usually, a better user experience, as well as better customer service. Use a premium internet security suite to protect your online activity. It’s worth it to get features like spam filters to protect you from phishing scams, ransomware and malware protection, parental content controls, VPN protection, extra privacy for financial transactions and social media use, and password management all rolled into one software suite.
If you care about your privacy online, it’s vital that you keep your operating system (OS) software up to date, and keep your browsers and other apps updated, too. Software updates typically include patches for security flaws that developers have discovered, so not installing them is leaving yourself vulnerable to malware, ransomware, and viruses. Software updates can improve your system performance, too.
If you use public wifi networks at all, you need a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN encrypts your online activity so that hackers can’t spy on you using packet sniffers. It creates a safe tunnel for your data to travel through, so that your banking information, credit card numbers, emails, and social media remain private and secure.
Physical theft of your devices is as much a threat as digital theft of your information. Keep your laptop, tablet, and smartphone password-locked so that if someone steals it, they can’t just immediately get access to all of your data. If you’re using your device in a public place, keep an eye on it – don’t leave your laptop unattended to go to the coffee shop bathroom.
All the VPNs, antivirus programs, and password managers in the world can’t protect you from yourself. You need to keep your guard up online and your wits about you. If you’re on social media and someone messages you saying they’re in trouble and need you to send money fast, don’t panic and open up Venmo. Contact the person by another means and you’ll probably find that you’ve been targeted by scammers. Be careful of phishing emails and social engineering attacks. They’re getting more common and more sophisticated, and it only takes a brief lapse in judgment or moment of weakness to fall victim to one.
As cybercriminals get more sophisticated and more skilled, you need to be even more on your guard when you go online. Stay safe as you use the internet, and avoid losing time, money, and peace of mind to a cybercriminal.
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