• Dan Barrow

7 Simple Ways To Protect Yourself Online

Updated: Apr 27, 2018

While widespread ransomware attacks are dominating the headlines these days, it doesn’t take a team of professional hackers to compromise your computer and steal your private information. Here are seven simple, quick and inexpensive ways to keep your data (and wallet) safe while browsing the web.

1. Subscribe to a VPN service and install it on your computer and mobile devices.

A VPN (Virtual Private Network) encrypts and anonymizes all of your internet activity. “But I’m not doing anything illegal, why do I need a VPN?” you might ask. Unless you have VPN, connecting to the public Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop is like leaving your front door wide open. It doesn’t take a sophisticated hacker to walk through your computer’s front door and gain access to all of your files. Private Internet Access is highly-reviewed and at about $3 per month, the price is hard to beat.

2. Store your passwords with a secure password manager.

Isn’t it great when you go to pay a bill online and your browser has remembered all your login information? But what if your computer fell into the wrong hands, giving someone access to your online banking? Apps like Keeper combine convenience with security by storing all your credentials behind a secure “vault” that only you know the credentials to.

It can even randomize your passwords into lengthy combinations of letters, numbers and symbols that make them nearly impossible for a hacker to guess. At about $30 a year, it’s a small price to keep all your passwords secure.

3. Enable two-factor authentication on any app or website that requires a username and password.

Two-factor authentication is just that; a second layer of security that sends you a unique code (usually in the form of a text) to ensure that it’s actually you attempting to log in.

Without two-factor, anyone that has access to your e-mail or can guess your security questions could then re-set the passwords for any of your accounts, such as Dropbox or your online banking. All websites from Twitter to Google offers two-factor, and you can customize the settings to meet your needs.

4. Run your computer’s security updates.

You know those pesky reminders that are always bugging you to update your operating system? Those often contain security patches for vulnerabilities that have been discovered since you got the computer. Last year’s ransomware attacks that crippled networks around the world and cost businesses an estimated $4 Billion exploited a vulnerability in Windows XP for which Microsoft had previously offered a patch. Individuals can be just as vulnerable.

That takes us to our next point…

5. Back up all of your documents to the cloud and a physical external hard drive.

Paying the ransom doesn’t guarantee your computer will be unlocked, so you should always have a backup if your data can’t be recovered.

6. Invest in anti-virus software.

There are a number of reputable anti-virus providers that offer a variety of options for Macs (yes, they can get viruses) and PC’s. Pick the best one for you and make sure to keep it updated.

7. Be suspicious, especially when it comes to e-mails.

Schemes like phishing attacks are becoming more sophisticated and harder to detect every day. If something looks suspicious, it probably is. If you see something out of place, delete the e-mail (or close the browser), and run an anti-virus scan. Be particularly wary of anything that asks you to enter or re-set your password. Any legitimate entity already has your password; only the bad guys are after it.

Bottom Line: There’s no silver bullet to cyber security. But the steps listed above combine to create a series of protections that block threats and redundancies that minimize risk if you are compromised. Altogether, these should take no more than a couple hours to set up and cost around $150 per year to maintain.

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