Protect Yourself Online

Cybersecurity is a lot like a seatbelt. The benefits of keeping your digital life secure—like buckling up before you start your car—far outweigh the time and minor inconvenience required to protect yourself.

Similarly, you need to “buckle up” your online practices to stop cyber criminals from breaking into your online accounts or violating your data privacy. Here are five tips to help keep your identity, money, and privacy safe—online and on your phone.

1. Keep Your Operating System Up to Date

Have you ever wondered why you get so many notices about updates for your computer operating system? Sometimes the updates contain new features and capabilities, and sometimes they fix bugs that may cause crashes and freezes. But just as often they’re designed to address security holes. If you’re tempted to ignore them, don’t!

That’s because, whatever computer operating system you use, there’s a team devoted to making it difficult to break into or infect with malicious code. One of the simplest and easiest ways to protect your computer is to make sure you have installed the latest updates and patches to your operating system. So take a moment to update your system when prompted. Better yet, arrange for automatic updates, if possible.

2. Use the Most Current Version of Your Browser

Ensuring your browser is up to date is just as important as keeping your operating system current. In addition to providing you with the latest bells and whistles, browser updates usually contain enhanced security features and protections.

How you use your browser is important, too. Open a new window before logging on to a secure website, and be sure to log out of the site before closing the window. As an additional precaution for avoiding spoof sites—those that mimic legitimate ones to obtain your login information—access secure sites from a search engine or type in the URL yourself. Never go directly to a website from an e-mail.

When providing personal information on a website, look for the letters “https:” at the beginning of the web address. That means the site is encrypted, and your information goes directly to the website’s server, minimizing the chances of interception.

3. Create Strong Passwords

You’ve probably heard this before, but there’s a reason companies with secure websites are persistent about using strong passwords. Obvious passwords and username‐password combinations can be easy for criminals to crack.

The strongest passwords are long and employ a mix of numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and special characters. One element of your password could be the first letter of each word in a phrase. For example, “the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog” would become “tqbfjotld.” The downside to creative passwords is trying to remember them. One option is to create a document where all of your passwords can be organized in alphabetical order. Make sure that this document is readily available to you in a safe and secure environment.

Elements to avoid: your name, birthday, Social Security number, wedding anniversary, and similar items. Never use the same password for multiple websites, as any weakness and compromise at one site can lead to compromise of your access into all the other sites where you have used the same password.

4. Install Antivirus Protection

While operating system and browser developers do their best to protect against vulnerabilities, specialized security or antivirus software can provide an additional layer of safeguards.

Antivirus software for PC‐based computers can help guard against the latest viruses and other threats, as well as scan your computer for missing updates. For mobile devices, antivirus software can protect against viruses and spyware from files, SD cards, applications, and downloads; provide safe searching and shopping protections, as well as messaging and e-mail safeguards; and block spammers and unwanted messages.

5. Recognize the Signs of Phishing

Cyber phishing has nothing to do with bass but everything to do with bait—most often in the form of a legitimate‐looking e-mail with fake links, phone numbers, and attachments. It’s not always easy to spot a fake. Look for misspellings, grammar mistakes, and odd imagery. Do not respond to an e-mail or fill out requests for information on a website unless you’re confident about its authenticity and security. Note that criminals are also calling people on the phone to get information or install malicious software on your PC.

Remember that reputable companies will never ask you for your login information in an e-mail or over the phone, so never give out your password or username—even if you think the request is legitimate. If you receive a suspicious call or e-mail, contact the company by phone or a known e-mail address. Don’t include your account number, username, or passwords in the e-mail.

What to Remember

None of these tips are difficult or time consuming, but they can be quite effective at protecting you from most cybercrime. Taking a few minutes to “buckle up” your online habits now can help keep your identity, money, and privacy safe from cyber thieves later.



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