Online data breaches are just an unfortunate fact of life now because cyberattacks happen all the time.
Many people don’t take even simple steps that would make it harder for thieves to gain access to banking details, Social Security numbers and other sensitive information.
Fortunately, there are several things you can do, quickly and easily, to keep your data more secure. A really determined and skilled hacker could still find a way in. By putting up a few roadblocks, it might encourage them to move on to a different target.
Here are five things experts recommend to better protect your personal information:
- Use a stronger password. People have some truly awful passwords. You should try to create complex passwords. Use a combination of special characters, numbers and phrases that aren’t easily guessed. Password-management software can help, too; these programs generate strong passwords for you and require you to remember just one master password.
- Better yet, use multi-factor authentication. Many companies and online service providers offer this feature. It forces you to provide verification beyond a password to sign in. You might be required to enter a code that is sent to your mobile device, or answer security questions. Beware the security questions, however—thanks to publicly available information, including posts on social media, these can be easy to guess. So make sure your answers are things only you would know. If multi-factor authentication is available, you should use it, especially for sites with your most sensitive information.
- Watch out for phishing attempts. Unless you’re absolutely sure about the person or company you’re dealing with, don’t give out personal or financial details on the phone or via email. If you have a question about someone’s authenticity, type the organization’s web address into your browser (don’t click links in an email or use an address provided by a caller). Then call or email back using the information on the actual website, or get the correct contact information from your account statement.
- Back up (or wipe out) your data. This is important in case your device is stolen. It also can save you in the event of a “ransomware” attack, when someone blocks access to your data unless you pay a fee. Some devices and platforms have a feature that allows you to erase everything remotely if needed, so consider enabling that if available. And remember to always fully wipe old devices before selling or recycling them. Simply deleting files isn’t enough—check with the manufacturer and learn how to completely erase all of your information.
- Watch where you go online (and where you’re connected).If you’re making a purchase online, don’t enter your credit-card information (or other sensitive details) unless the site’s address begins with “https.” It’s best to avoid entering this type of data when you’re on a public network, especially if it’s unsecured.
Of course, nothing can completely protect you from all risk online. But if you use the steps above, you’ll be ahead of most people.