As time goes on and more and more of our personal information finds its way onto the internet, our chances of falling prey to cyber criminals increases dramatically. All of these “connected” devices that we’ve introduced into our lives, have the potential to make those lives easier, but they can just as easily make our lives a living hell in ways that previous generations could have never imagined.
But don’t let the threat of cyber criminals scare you away from modern technology. In a sense, the threat of having your identity stolen has always been there, it’s just that the criminals in our midst have adapted to the times, and there’s no reason why we can’t do the same. If you want to reduce the risks of conducting your affairs in this high tech world, follow these helpful tips.
Only Visit Websites With HTTPS
You should never enter information into a website that doesn’t start with https. This is basically an encryption protocol. If a website has it, that means any data you send to that website is protected by a layer of encryption that in most cases, would prevent hackers from stealing it. And you should get in the habit of looking for this on websites you trust to prevent spoofing. This is when you accidentally log into a fake website masquerading as a trusted site, and unwittingly give your information away to identity thieves.
But this is mostly important for sites that you send information to. For instance, Ready Nutrition doesn’t have an https, but most of you don’t send information to us directly. If you leave us any comments or contact us in any way, you’re probably doing it through Disqus or Facebook, which do have https.
Backup Everything That’s Important
It’s a good idea to store your financial and business information outside of your computer, and I’m not talking about the cloud. Store all of your sensitive data and passwords on hard drives and flash drives, and if you like, there are ways to encrypt your storage devices.
This has the added benefit of protecting you from ransomware. If your computer ever locks up and demands payment to fix the problem, don’t fall for it. This is a criminal enterprise, and there’s no guarantee that paying them off will actually fix your computer. There are ways to remove ransomware, but if they don’t succeed, you’ll have everything you need stored separately, preferably in a device that doesn’t directly connect to the internet.
Use Two Different Computers
You may also want to use two different computers for your web surfing, one for regular internet usage, and one for banking and business purposes. This will protect your sensitive information from your normal web surfing habits, which are much more likely to have you stumbling into unsecured websites. Obviously, many of us can’t afford to buy a second computer, but if you get around to buying a new system to replace its aging predecessor, you should consider designating that old computer for strictly business activities.
This may not be the most popular option, but Linux is far more secure than Windows or Apple. While it is possible for Linux to catch a virus/malware/adware etc, because most people use Windows or Apple OS, most malicious software is designed to target those systems instead. Plus, there are literally hundreds of different versions of Linux, many of which can help your old computer run smoothly, so even if you don’t like using it for regular computer activities, it might be a good idea to download Linux on your “backup” computer I mentioned earlier.
And while we’re on the subject of having a second computer, one of the cheaper options is to buy a USB computer. These are tiny single-board computers that often run on Linux, and usually cost less than $100. They are slightly larger than a USB stick, and you can plug them into your computer, so when you turn it on, everything is running from this pocket sized system, instead of your main computer. They’re usually about as powerful as a cheap smartphone, and sometimes have reliability issues, but the technology is improving.
Investigate Websites Before You Visit
If you’re searching through Google and you find a link that you’re not sure you can trust, you can always look up the site before you click on it. Sometimes it takes almost no effort to figure out if a website is unsafe. Start typing the website name into Google, and if they have a history of scamming customers or spreading viruses, before you even finish typing it in, Google will start suggesting search terms that include “virus” or “scam.”
This is even more useful when you receive any kind of prompt or message asking you for information. You might be dealing with another form of spoofing, where someone pretending to be a reputable company claims to need your login information for various purposes. Unless you’re the very first person to be scammed by a specific program, just looking up that website or program will lead to forums and reviewers that have dealt with it before.
Rethink Your Social Media Presence
There are so many things that can be inferred from you based on your social media presence. It’s strange to think that people used to be very concerned about their privacy, but now they just flaunt everything about themselves on Facebook. And while it’s difficult for some people to imagine how this happens, just know that it is possible for thieves to steal your identity based on the subjects you’re interested in, the stores you shop at, the places you plan to visit. Try to think of identity thieves in the same way you think of Sherlock Holmes. It only takes a little bit of data for them to figure out everything about you. So ya, don’t go posting your life story on Facebook, and avoid communicating with people you’ve never met in person.
Keep Your Computer in Excellent Condition
I like to think that the people who put off downloading software updates and ignore antivirus warnings, are the same people who treat their cars like crap. It’s a similar situation if you think about it. You wouldn’t forget to change your oil on a regular basis, and you wouldn’t drive on bald tires if you could afford new ones, would you? So keep your operating system and antivirus software up to date. A little bit of time and effort now will save you a lot of money and heartache later.
Don’t Get Lazy With Your Passwords
When you really break down internet security, your passwords are the only thing standing between you and the criminals. Most of the threats I’ve described thus far, are really just attempts to get a hold of your passwords. So it’s important for you to develop unique codes for every website you use. Otherwise, if someone figures out one of your passwords, they’ll be able to hack into everything. It would also be wise to avoid the 25 most common passwords that so many people use. And I know most folks will never do this willingly, but the safest password is a random string of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols, and it should be changed every few months. That might be a bit overkill, but it is the safest way.
Unfortunately, the more unique your password is, the harder it is to remember. If it’s a random string of letters and numbers, no one will figure it out, but you probably won’t remember it either. You could write them down, but that would make your codes accessible to thieves in the real world. There are password managers you can download, or you can store your passwords on an encrypted USB drive.
At the end of the day, there’s a lot of if’s and maybe’s here, so the best methods of protecting yourself from cyber criminals, will be unique to your situation. This is by no means an all inclusive list of strategies, but hopefully it will get you started on the right path towards having your digital life, safe and secure.