Millions of consumers across the globe have had personal information such as credit card numbers, health records and Social Security numbers compromised through data breaches or identity theft. Cybercriminals are constantly trying to beat the system, which means consumers must be vigilant at all times. With a little planning and persistence, consumers can protect their identities and prepare for the worst.
Here are steps you can take to protect yourself:
>> Implement a VPN Solution
A VPN stands for a Virtual Private Network, and this can be established on computers and/or mobile devices. A VPN encrypts your network traffic from your endpoint – computer or mobile device – to the provider’s point. When it goes out to the internet, the information is encrypted. So, the traffic is protected from someone trying to access it without permission.
>> Stay Away from Public Wi-Fi
Do not connect to a public Wi-Fi unless you are using a VPN, because you do not know if it is protected and you do not know who is listening or watching the traffic. A VPN is a great solution for that.
>> Cookies are Not Good for You
People have several web browsers from which to choose: Safari, Google Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorer, just to name a few. Each browser has capabilities designed to help protect your privacy. One of them is blocking cookies.
Cookies are used by advertisers to track your viewing or shopping habits. Let’s say you search for a flashlight on Amazon and then visit another site. Once you are there, an advertiser can look at the cookie left on your machine to push a digital ad for flashlights with the hope that you make a purchase.
>> Turn on Private Browsing
Private browsing is another feature you can try within your browser. There are settings to hide your IP Address so companies and cyber thieves do not know your exact location. Companies use locations to geo-target a specific area, offering products tailored for that audience.
>> Turn Off Location Services to Remove Location Data from Photos
People like to post pictures online. When you take a picture with a smartphone or tablet, it keeps metadata on it, logging the exact location where the picture was taken. Anyone with some technical knowledge and a computer can access the location information, or geotag, to confirm your whereabouts. If you are interested in removing location data from your smartphone or tablet photos, take a dive into your device’s settings to turn off the location services option.
>> Do Not Use the Same Password for All Accounts
Make it difficult for hackers to crack your password. Create a smart password by incorporating capital letters, numbers and special letters. Try to use more than 10 characters. Do not use the same password for all your accounts.
That is a lot to remember for all of those accounts, so get a password manager, which is an encrypted vault for passwords. Many of the password managers out there are free. Once cyber thieves get one password, they will see what else they can gain access to: banks, insurance company, utilities, personal email and even parent portals for your child’s school.
>> Shop Safely
Be sure the online store you plan to order from uses secure technology. When you reach the checkout, confirm that the web address begins with “https.” Also, look for the locked padlock symbol at the bottom right of the checkout screen, or that there is a statement on the checkout screen stating the pages are secure with a security technology vendor. Confirm that the security technology is legitimate by visiting the security technology’s company website.
>> Use Two-Factor Authentication
For an extra layer of security, use a two-factor authentication service, if available. Google offers two-factor authentication, which has an ID, password and one more piece of information like a token that generates a code. You will always need that code to log into your Gmail account. That provides extra protection so no one can hack into your Gmail account. Not everyone provides a two-factor authentication but if they do, take advantage of that option.
>> Avoid Phishing Scams
It is fine to click on links when visiting trusted websites. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and fake websites to lure unsuspecting users into revealing private account or login information. If you ever receive an email from a business that includes a link to a business website, make sure the website you visit is legitimate. When in doubt, go directly to the source rather clicking a potentially dangerous link. Extra levels of security include installing an anti-phishing toolbar, keeping your browser up to date and using antivirus software.
>> Don’t Click on Pop-Ups or Hyperlinks
Never click on pop-ups or hyperlinks within spam email. Malware is embedded in or attached to spam messages and pop-ups. Illegitimate malware pop-ups and spam are capable of installing malware to hijack your browser and capture your personal information. In fact, malware pop-ups and spam often appear because you already have spyware on your machine. Clicking the attached file or on a link within the email then initiates the download. However, sometimes simply opening the message, itself, launches the download process.