Over the past few years, some of the largest data breaches in history have been reported. Between Equifax, Marriott and Yahoo, billions of individuals’ data has been exposed to hackers and other unsavory types. In a world where more of our life is conducted online, protecting your data is becoming increasingly important. In the spirit of Cybersecurity Month (October), the following are 5 steps you can take to protect your personal information.
- Create a secret email address for your financial accounts. Frequently, your email address is the user id to numerous websites. With the data breaches, our email addresses are available to hackers essentially opening your entire digital world to them. For sensitive accounts, consider using a secret email address. This email address should be unidentifiable meaning don’t use your name, initials or any identifying info. Protect it with a strong password to increase the difficulty in hacking the account.
- Enable 2-step verification on email and financial accounts. Passwords are your first layer of security. However, you need an extra layer of protection for important websites like banks, email and social media. Two-step verification can be added to any account that supports the technology. When you log into an account, you are sent a passcode to be entered to gain access to the account. Even if a hacker has your password, they can’t gain entry without the secondary passcode which changes every time you login.
- Use Wi-Fi with extreme caution. We all like free internet service, but many times it comes with unintentional costs. These networks are completely open enabling hackers to potentially gain access to any account you visit while on it. At minimum, avoid logging into bank accounts or checking email while on it. Ideally, use your phone’s data connection which provides a private connection or install a VPN (virtual private network) on your computer to secure your web surfing.
- Freeze your credit and your children’s. By default, our credit files are open to anyone who knows just enough about us to get by the customer service rep. With all the data breaches, basic phone, address, email and SSN info is available to anyone who looks hard enough. Freezing your credit file prevents any new credit from being issued in your name.
- Update all your software, always. 70% to 80% of all security breaches are due to outdated software. Hackers exploit vulnerabilities in unpatched software by installing malware and viruses on unprotected devices. Make sure all updates are installed by enabling the auto-update feature in the Security or Settings tab.
The above won’t make you a cybersecurity expert nor close every vulnerability, but they represent a good first step in protecting your personal information. Save yourself some time, money and frustration by acting today on the above suggestions and vowing to take your data’s security more seriously going forward.