For many people, the internet has become part of our everyday lives. We use the internet and other online services to communicate, purchase consumer goods, keep personal records and maintain a persistent relationship with the world around us.
As a result, an enormous amount of our personal information can potentially be found online. Hackers can potentially access private information through a number of ways, and if you aren’t careful, your information can be accessed easily without you even realizing it.
Here are five ways you can stay safe online and protect your personal information from malicious activity.
1. Create Strong, Unique Passwords
Creating complex, unique passwords is one of the best ways to keep your identity safe online. This is especially true with regards to your personal and financial information such as medical records and banking accounts. If you have a tendency to use the same password across multiple websites and accounts, hackers can potentially use your password to access other accounts.
While it can be difficult to keep up with dozens of unique passwords, you could use a password manager to help create and store strong passwords for all of your online accounts. Also, a number of services, including social media platforms, banking apps and other websites utilize multi-factor authentication to confirm a user’s identity online.
2. Watch Out for Phishing Attempts and Other Online Scams
Don’t be fooled into clicking on a fraudulent link or attachment in an email or giving out sensitive information to an unfamiliar person or website. If you think an email looks suspicious, especially if it’s asking you to provide bank account or other personal information, delete it. If you receive an email from a familiar address but the contents look unfamiliar, don’t respond. It might help to contact the person to find out firsthand.
Likewise, if you’re not familiar with a particular website or online service, don’t share your personal information. Look for websites that have a verification lock beside the URL. If you’re even slightly unsure about a site, leave immediately so hackers don’t have a chance to access your information.
3. Keep Software Updated
Keep the software on your computer, your phone and your apps up to date. The latest software versions are likely to have security patches or changes that help your devices run more smoothly and keep your identity more secure. On most devices, you can choose to have your device regularly scan for new software updates without you having to manually keep up.
4. Be Careful How You Use Public Wi-Fi
Open Wi-Fi networks can easily be hacked, so try to keep your online activity and the information you share over those networks to a minimum. Hackers can also use a hotspot to impersonate an open network in public places like coffee shops, airports and restaurants in order to access personal information.
You could use a virtual private network (VPN) to increase privacy but understand that your online presence won’t be completely anonymous. Even with the use of a VPN, you are still at risk of being targeted when using an open Wi-Fi connection. Best practice: don’t share sensitive, personal information over an open Wi-Fi connection and restrict file sharing on all your personal devices.
5. Review and Understand Your Privacy Settings
Change and customize your privacy settings when using social media platforms and other third-party apps. The default options aren’t typically “private,” so it is important that you understand what each setting means, review those settings manually and customize them to suit your needs.