The world today is very different from the non-digital world of the past. Although using smart devices to go online has made shopping, paying bills, and banking much easier, it does pose a whole new set of challenges. In the old days, only a small number of organizations had access to your personal information – your doctor, your bank, the IRS, etc. And they didn’t store this information on computer disks connected to the internet.
Now we have smartphones, social media, the cloud, IoT, big data, and hackers lurking at every corner of the digital world. Understandably, the internet sometimes feels like a jungle full of threats where it’s almost impossible to stay safe. Well, it’s not as difficult as you’d imagine. You just have to treat your online interactions the same way you would treat those with strangers you encounter on the street.
Would you open any packages or envelopes they hand you? Would you give them your credit card? Would you lead them home or give them your address? Probably not, and you’re probably getting the idea.
There are quite a few simple and sensible things you can do to protect your digital privacy. Here are some of them.
Social Media Accounts
Most of us have accounts on several social media platforms, and they can do a lot of damage in the wrong hands. Cybercriminals can access a lot of information such as our list of friends and photos that they can use this information to figure out where we live, work, who our family members are, and so on.
You’ll want to make a list of your accounts and decide which ones you want to keep. The fewer you have, the easier it will be to manage them, so if you have accounts you rarely use, it’s better to delete them. After that, you’ll want to change the passwords, especially if you use the same password for multiple accounts. We’ll discuss more about passwords in the next section.
Using strong passwords is the most basic thing you can do to protect yourself online. Unfortunately, most people use the same password for multiple accounts, or they have very easy to guess passwords like “Password123” that they change only once every few years. It’s best to change your password at least once per year. A good password is one that you can easily remember, but that’s hard for anyone else to guess.
For example, you can use acronym-based passwords. You think of a simple phrase you can easily remember like “I enjoy eating pancakes for breakfast,” and then you use only the first letter of every word, in this case, “ieepfb.” You should also add a few numbers and capitalize at least one of the letters.
Alternatively, you can use password management software that can generate strong passwords and store them for you.
Avoid Using Unsecured Free Wi-Fi
Using free Wi-Fi makes you vulnerable to hackers because of the low level of security. It’s better to get a good data plan and use that. If you’re in a situation where you really must use public Wi-Fi – for example, you’re at the airport in another country where your data plan doesn’t work – avoid entering sensitive information or use a VPN like Nord VPN.
A VPN or Virtual Private Network will encrypt and route all the information you send or receive on your device, so it can’t be intercepted, read, or stolen. You can also use a VPN at home as an extra layer of security with the added benefit that it will allow you to access geo-restricted content.
Keep Everything Up To Date
We know that updates are tedious, but they’re important because most companies release updates after they’ve discovered critical security holes that make you vulnerable to hackers.
Let’s start with your router. Routers can be hacked just like your computer, your smartphone, or your social media accounts. What’s worse is that you’ll usually connect all your devices at home to your router, so it’s vital that you keep it updated. Otherwise, someone who can break into it can gain access to all the devices connected to it and can even launch cyberattacks against other individuals or companies that will look as if they’re coming from your address.
Updating your router is relatively easy. You just have to follow the instructions printed on it (either on the bottom or side) and long onto its web interface. Once you’re there, you should look for a “check for updates button,” which is typically very prominent to make it easier for users to find. You should also make sure you change the default password the router came with. For more information about passwords, please refer to the second section of this article.
Likewise, you should update your operating system, browsers, and any other applications you use.
Be Careful Where You Enter Financial Information
We all enjoy shopping online. You can do it in the comfort of your own home, where no annoying shop assistants are trying to pressure you into making a purchase. You can take your time, compare multiple offers, and read all the reviews you want. But shopping online also means you have to enter your credit card information, which can lead to problems.
Before you make any purchases from an online store, check if the URL starts with “https://” instead of “http://.” The “s” at the end is essential because it shows that your connection is encrypted. HTTP is usually ok when you’re just browsing the web, but it becomes a problem when you have to enter information.
Also, keep in mind that even if the URL starts with https, it’s still possible that it’s not secure because it could be a spoofed website. So you’ll need to double-check. How do you do that? You click on the little padlock icon next to the address so you can see the security certificate. Then you clock on the certificate or “Issued to” option in the pop-up window and check for what website the certificate was issued. The name should match the site you think you’re on, or you could be dealing with a spoofed website.