By Bridgette Mabuto
While most cyber attacks are not as scary as the couple filmed sleeping or as newsworthy as the Ashley Madison break, that doesn’t mean they are any less important, and they’re certainly important to those who have lost their personal information, money and sometimes even their identity. Whether the hacker’s motive is instilling fear, satisfying curiosity or stealing information for nefarious purposes, when it happens to you at the very least you feel violated.
The problem with cyber attacks is that we feel there’s little we can do to prevent them. You shop at a regular store and your credit card information is stolen, such as happened at Target. You log on to the wrong website and your entire computer is hacked. It’s terrifying! While if you use credit cards, debit cards or the Internet you can’t completely prevent an attack, thankfully there are several things you can do to protect yourself. By following these tips, you’ll greatly reduce the likelihood of having your information stolen.
Strengthen Your Passwords
This is one of the most basic ways to keep hackers out of your personal items. Most websites now will give you suggestions on how to create strong passwords. This includes using capital and lower-case letters, special characters, and numbers. The longer the password is, the better. As tempting as it can be to use the same password for each site, this is a big no-no. If a hacker manages to get into one of your accounts, different passwords help prevent him/her from getting into more.
Change Your Passwords
Having a strong password isn’t enough anymore, because eventually, even the strongest one can be hacked. This is why you need to change your passwords semi-regularly. And, try to keep all your passwords as different as possible. That makes it all the more difficult for a hacker. Set a time in your calendar so that you remember when you need to make the changes. Keep your passwords in a safe place off your computer.
Don’t Email or Text Confidential Information
Sometimes this can’t be helped. After all, email is the preferred method to communicate in businesses now days. Thankfully, most businesses such as banks have extra security for information sent over their networks, but for your personal communications, you need to be extra careful. You should get an antivirus that covers your email accounts, too. Also, don’t ever send important information like your Social Security number, credit card numbers, etc, through email.
Be Careful with Emails You Open
This sounds like extremely old advice, but be careful what you open. Hackers are getting better and better at faking emails, so now you have to be extra careful. If you aren’t expecting an email from your bank or other businesses, don’t click on a link they send. Instead, open a new window and go to the website directly. Better yet, get their phone number from their actual website (not from the email or link), and give them a call to find out if the email is real.
Be Careful How You Shop
One of the best places for hackers to attack is where people willingly give up their credit card and other personal information: Online stores. This is a hacker’s playground. This is why it’s extra important for you to take care when you’re shopping online. You want to make sure the stores where you’re shopping are using a security technology vendor. This will increase the probability of your information staying safe while and after you shop. Paying through PayPal is even better—that way the online store never receives your credit card information, so if they do get hacked, you’re still safe.
Watch Your Children
Technology is just as big a part of your children’s lives as it is a part of yours. And, even if you know all the ways to stay safe while surfing and shopping online, your kids might not be as wary. It’s important to monitor what they’re doing online. And, if you can’t keep any eye on them all the time, you should put parental controls on the computer your children frequent. This will keep them from getting on sites, playing games, and giving away information where they should not.
Monitor Your Statements
While you can’t completely protect yourself against cyber attacks, the next best thing is to stop them as soon as they start. If your information has been stolen, you want to know as soon as possible so you can alert the necessary people to take care of it. Keeping an eye on your statements and going over them once every week or so will keep you on top of your spending and let you know if there’s any activity that you don’t recognize. And, if there’s something you don’t recognize, let your credit card company or bank know immediately, so they can lock your information down.
Sign Up for Alerts
If you think going through your statements once a week isn’t enough, sign up for real-time alerts to let you know the minute something is charged to your account. There are several settings you can use to determine which alerts you want, from location to amount. Or you can opt to get the alerts whenever your card is used, which may help protect you and also keep you on top of your spending habits.
In a world where a person behind a computer can steal every piece of information available about you, being online can be extremely scary. However, if you’re cautious and well informed, you can greatly reduce your chances of being the victim of a cyber attack.