But did you ever stop to think about the things you do that could make you vulnerable when you’re online? After all, you read about how people are breaching computers, how cyber criminals are stealing personal information and data. And I’m sure that you’ve read about how some very nasty cyber “black hats” are installing malware, spyware and ransomware on computers that can ruin someone financially, or even personally. It’s happening at an alarming rate – in 2019, over 2.5 billion user accounts were hacked. Yes, that’s “billion” with a capital “B.”
Most of the hacking and breaching are a result of things that people do each day that make their computers vulnerable once they go online. I’m talking about people like you and me, innocently typing URLs into the browser to shop, search or work. Remember, data is flying over networks from your home or office, and if you’re not careful, if you’re diligently protecting your private data and information, some cyber thief is waiting to pounce on it.
what are we doing to make ourselves vulnerable? And what can we do to better
protect ourselves? Let’s take a look at some of the everyday things we do so we
can better police our personal information.
Mismanaging Your Passwords
Passwords are a pain. When you sign up on a website for the first time and are asked to create a password, how many times do you see – and then ignore – a warning that you haven’t created a very strong password? The fact is, most people don’t care when the warning pops up – they’re going to put in their childhood street address or some letter and number combination that’s easy for them to remember – regardless of the consequences.
Why do you think it’s so easy to hack someone’s computer? The password. Once a cyber crook starts exploring your computer, he or she can figure out your password in an hour or less – mainly because we’re not diligent about creating strong passwords.
But a password’s strength isn’t the only problem; another huge mistake people make is to use the same password for everything they do online, from shopping websites to online banking. Once the thief has your password, every part of your personal and financial life is open to them. That’s because your one password grants them access to everything you do.
Another mistake people make is to write down their passwords and keep them in a safe place. “Safe” is a relative term, because putting them on a piece of paper in the back of your calendar or in a folder labeled “passwords” is not a safe place! Others create a list of passwords and then save them on the computer, creating a gift for every computer hacker to find while they’re searching your files.
So what can you do? You can download a password manager like Dashlane or Enpass and let the software create your strong passwords and manage them for you, so you won’t have to remember anything at all. Since a strong password is usually one that has more than 10 characters including caps, numbers and symbols, it’s best to use a password manager.
Mistakes with Data Sharing
While many people think that most hacking comes from social media, cyber crooks have a surprise for you. They can also steal your data and personal information from data you’ve shared by subscribing to magazines, or by filing out online forms for credit cards or shopping sites.
The reason? When was the last time you actually read the agreement that you “agreed to” when signing up for something? For most, the answer is never. That means others, including spammers and hackers, can collect the data that you’ve entered.
Best way to avoid problems is to check the information about you that’s available to others online in all of the major search engines. If you’ve left a lot of data through your online activities, it’s time to begin an opt-out campaign. Use online tools like Nuwber, TruthFinder or others that will let you eliminate all of your information from multiple databases at one time. That information would include your phone number, credit card usage and more.
Making Unsecure Purchases
Many experts claim that Internet shopping has helped to damage “brick and mortar” shopping stores. That’s why retail is in such trouble. But it has also done something else: it’s opened the door to cyber criminals in ways that nobody ever imagined.
How do they steal your data and personal information? They create phony or “spoof” websites that look just like Amazon, eBay, Macy’s and others. While you think you’re signing up on Amazon’s website, you’re really signing up on a spoof site and entering all of your personal data and credit card numbers on a cyber criminal’s website.
To avoid this ploy, always verify that the website you think you’re on is the real website! And only shop on websites that are known – never sign up for “free” bonus merchandise or enter credit card information on a website you’ve never heard of before. You’re just asking for trouble. Also, only use websites with a URL that use HTTPS – (the “S” means secure). Don’t use the older websites that only use HTTP.
Using the Internet on Public Wi-Fi
You’re sitting in an airport lounge, waiting for your flight, and to pass the time, you pull out your laptop and log onto the Internet. Maybe you want to do some last minute shopping, or check on your bank statement. Pretty easy to do, but the problem is that on a public Wi-Fi network, especially in an airport, you’re not the only seeing your data. Those networks are wide open to cyber criminals who can’t wait to steal your personal information and data.
People do this every single day. It might be a coffee shop, a commuter train station or any one of a number of places, but none of those public Wi-Fi networks afford you any protection whatsoever. So what can you do? One way to avoid the hackers is to use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to connect to the Internet. It will hide your data and will also eliminate having to enter a log-in page that asks for your personal data like phone numbers or your address.
Downloading Freebies on the Internet
How many times a day do you use your smartphone or tablet to check for directions, store hours, maps or recipes? If you find you’re a frequent user of mobile apps on those devices, take note: the minute you download anything for free, you’re opening the door for cyber crooks to see your personal data. When you download a free app to your device from any unsecured source, you risk being hacked.
What should you do? If you have a new app you’re ready to set up, be sure to know exactly what permissions you’re giving out, or if you even want to share anything at all with them. If you only use trusted app stores like Apple’s AppStore or Google Play, your information will be safe and the risk of being hacked will be pretty much eliminated.
Free apps aren’t the only problem. Often, you’re offered free eBooks, discount coupons or other freebies from sources who are only interested in gathering your personal information. In order to download the free item, you’ll have to fill out a form that asks for your name, email address, phone numbers and other personal data. Don’t do it! It may cause you all types of problems by handing out that personal information. After all, you wouldn’t give to a complete stranger, would you? Of course not! Don’t do it on the Internet either.
We all get into daily habits, whether it’s starting your day with a cup of coffee or jogging before breakfast. Those habits are fine. The ones you have to watch out for are the ones you practice on the Internet, because those things you do every day could mean your personal information will be compromised, and a cyber crook will have access to data that you don’t want to give out.
Start by managing your passwords properly. Have a unique password for each and every account or website you visit. Use a password manager to create and manage a really strong password for you. Also, be sure to check the information that’s available about yourself online on the major search engines, and use online tools to opt-out of multiple sites that have collected your personal data. When shopping online, only use known sites that have secure connections.
They’ll start with “HTTPS” – while the unsecure, older sites start with, “HTTP.” Avoid using public Wi-Fi to search the Internet, and never make purchases with a credit card over those networks. They’re an open door for cyber crooks. Finally, if you download free apps online, use trusted sties like Apple’s AppStore and Google Play. That’s a safe way to go and you’ll avoid having a hacker steal your personal data.
Stay safe online!