You may have recently heard conflicting reports about ID fraud, and whether you should be concerned about it or not. You should. The threat of cyber attacks and ID theft is very real. Keep these two thoughts in mind: the White House and 12.7 million.
Remember, just this year, the White House revealed that it was a victim of cyber crime. Russians, it’s believed, hacked the White House and accessed President Obama’s private calendar. Hackers also stole Social Security numbers from millions of federal employees.
The 12.7 million? That’s how many Americans were victims of ID fraud in 2014. Those victims had $16 billion stolen from them in just one year, according to Javelin Strategy & Research.
So, we thought it was time to boil down some of the best advice you can follow to stay safe. Do these five steps and you’ll greatly improve your chances of not becoming the next victim of ID theft or cyber crime.
If there were only one way for you to protect yourself from cyber crimes and ID theft, we’d tell you, “Change your passwords. Often.” That’s something almost every cyber security expert agrees on.
Many cyber crimes affect people with easy-to-remember passwords. We’ve told you before that a lot of people use similar passwords, like “password” or “123456.” Cyber criminals won’t even break a sweat trying to figure those out.
What you need is an incredibly long and complex password, say 10 to 20 characters long. It’s best to use a complicated mixture of numbers, symbols, uppercase letters and lowercase letters. Plus, be sure to have a different password for all your programs.
Whew! Too much? OK, breathe easy.
There’s an easy way to create and store complicated passwords. They’re called password managers, like KeePass or Dashlane.
These are often free, or low-cost, tools that securely save all your passwords, and help you create new ones. All you have to do is remember one really strong master password. Use a lot of letters, numbers and symbols for that master password.
You know those little boxes that pop up on your computer screen saying something like, “An update is ready to install?” Don’t think of them as being annoying.
It’s really important that you update your software programs. A lot of times, those pop-up boxes are for fixes to serious security vulnerabilities.
Every major computer company, like Microsoft and Adobe, regularly issues software updates and patches. Some updates are automatic, like on Microsoft’s new Windows 10 operating system. But many updates and patches need your OK before they’re installed.
If you’re worried that you’ve missed important software updates, and who hasn’t, don’t worry. There are apps to check for software that needs to be updated.
For example, download the free SUMo app. It’ll show you when software updates are available, and it’ll let you know which updates you still need to install.
Protecting yourself online starts with your password, of course. But even super-complex passwords like the ones described above aren’t foolproof.
To get closer to foolproof, you’ll want to make it tougher for cyber criminals to steal your ID. One great way to do that is with a two-step verification. You’ve probably come across these before, although you may not realize what they’re called.
When you’re banking online, have you ever gotten a message from the bank saying, essentially, that your password isn’t enough to get in? It prompts you for another code that you get as a text message or phone call. Once you type in that additional code, it’ll let you in.
That’s a two-step verification, or two-step authentication, and all the major companies use it for online transactions, or even social media sites like Facebook. At worst, it’s a minor inconvenience.
At best, it’s keeping the hackers away. Even if they have your password, it’s highly unlikely they’ll also have your phone.
Setting up two-step verification on sites like Facebook and Google is pretty easy. On Facebook, for instance, click the little upside down triangle to the right of Find Friends. Choose Settings, then click on the Security badge on the left. Click on Login Approvals, then put a check in the box that says, Require a security code. Click Get Started and follow the simple instructions.
Use https instead of http
Want to be secure on the Internet? Don’t want the government invading your privacy, or hackers stealing your ID?
Of course, you don’t. There’s an easy way to block much of that from happening, and it involves adding the letter “S” to the letters “HTTP.” You sometimes see those before “www” on websites; even if you don’t, they’re there.
HTTPS means that your connection to that site is encrypted so no one can see what you’re sending or receiving. Many sites now use HTTPS by default, but not every site does. You can force them to with the browser plug-in HTTPS Everywhere.
These days, hackers are loading every device you’ve got with malware and viruses. It doesn’t matter if you have a PC or a Mac, an iPhone or an Android phone. You’ve either been hacked, or will be. Hackers will try to install malicious software onto your device, to get access to your ID, your personal conversations and even the webcam on your computer.
But there’s good news. Despite what seems like never-ending threats, there are powerful security programs to protect yourself. You can find ones that are free and ones that are paid. The main difference is the paid ones have more features, although nearly all of them are going to offer good basic protection.