How do you keep your digital presence safe and protect your online accounts? Surprisingly, some very simple tweaks to how your devices and accounts are set up can drastically increase your online protection, stay private, and reduce nefarious access to your data. Here are some first steps to try.
Tips to protect your online accounts:
Data breaches from companies have simply become part of the digital landscape. From Target to Equifax, high-profile leaks have kept coming. Luckily, you can check if any of your data was breached on the site Have I Been Pwned, which will check your email addresses against known data breaches.
Since this aspect isn’t in your control, what can you do? Start with solid password practices. Ensure you’re using complex passwords, at least eight characters long (16 is better), with a wealth of numbers, capitals, and special characters. Consider using a passphrase and never set obvious passwords such as common phrases, loved ones’ names, birthdates, or other easy-to-access information. Even if it’s a very powerful password, ensure you don’t use the same one for all sites. That way, if one site is breached beyond your control, minimal damage control is needed.
Try an encrypted password manager if you’re struggling. You’ll still be able to access accounts easily, but with an additional layer of protection to help you. Don’t forget to include passwords for any smart devices and Internet of Things items you have at home! Routers and even smart light bulbs can be used as intrusion points. Never leave the default password set for devices, either.
Two Step Authentication
Most high-profile accounts, like social media and banking, will also allow you to set up two-factor authentication. Here, after your password is entered, you will be sent a separate, temporary code, either to your mobile device or a password authenticator app, before login is complete. It builds in an extra layer of security and makes your accounts infinitely more difficult to access by hackers.
Web Browsing the Right Way
A sad fact of the modern digital landscape is that you are tracked online, no matter what you do. While we’ve seen both Apple and the EU enact some regulations on online data collection recently. It’s still best to assume you are being tracked every time you browse a site or click a button, let alone voluntarily hand over personal information.
Of course, it’s smart not to post everything on social media, including vacations, medical data, and religious beliefs. Still, even your browsing patterns reveal more about you than you may suspect. This is, of course, why targeted advertising is still such a money-churning part of digital marketing.
Running an ad blocker should be a must. You can always override these extensions if you choose to. It’s also good to look at a blocker for tracking cookies and other data. Make sure to dive into the privacy settings on all your accounts, too. Opt-out of data collection, even if it’s compellingly sold to you as “better matching your interests.”
It won’t fully cure the problem, but it will do a lot to curb it. Many people take it a step further and use a virtual private network or VPN to cover their online presence. This is especially useful if you’re using public Wi-Fi with any frequency or travel a lot. It helps mask your IP address and keep your data more private.
Staying Malware Free
Viruses and malware still offer key intrusion points into your digital presence, even though they aren’t getting the publicity they once did. Backdoors and vulnerabilities are being exploited for everything from covert bitcoin mining to scanning for personal information.
Windows Defender, the built-in antivirus that ships with Windows, is not a bad choice, but it’s the bare minimum you should be running. Add a powerful Malware detection suite to the mix, and make sure you’re scanning regularly and keeping it up-to-date for the best results. The macOS also ships with a fairly versatile defense system.
Watch your online habits, too. Stick to official app stores and well-known, trusted vendors. To protect your online accounts, it’s a good idea to run a firewall on your home networks, even if it’s the native Windows one. Anything you legitimately use that needs to bypass this level of security can be allowed access manually.
Securing your Mobile
Mobiles have become ever more important to our digital lives. First, make sure your phone is locked, either with a secure passcode or biometrics if you’d prefer. Then, think about how much private data you have on there and what it could do in the wrong hands.
Using your smartphone as a payment device can also add another layer of security to your online shopping and even real-world shopping efforts. Credit cards are not all that secure. We also recommend freezing your credit to prevent fraudsters from opening fraudulent accounts in your name. While it will need to be removed if you are legitimately applying for lines of credit, it’s a small inconvenience that can pay off big rewards for security.
Use Different Emails
Have several email accounts, including the one you can use for “throwaway” accounts like online shopping. With modern mobiles condensing your email accounts, it’s no longer as inconvenient as it once was to manage multiple accounts. This helps keep your main account, and those used by high-priority apps, much safer. This also helps you better identify and manage phishing emails. For example, if your “bank” sends a phishing mail to your shopping account, it’s easy to detect fraud without verifying and checking.
To protect your online accounts, it is essential to stay up-to-date on phishing and other scams, too. Some of these can be immensely sophisticated, and it’s easier than you think to fall prey to them. So always treat emails asking for sensitive information with care, and if you have any doubts, phone the institution before replying. Remember, banks and other legitimate sites and entities like the IRS won’t ever ask you to interact this way through email.
Staying safe online can be relatively simple if you approach it in a structured and sensible way and use the many security tools open to you.