In our modern digital age, many of us perceive privacy to be a myth. Global identity theft is on the rise, and most Americans sense some level of trepidation about their online safety.
Unfortunately, it’s near impossible for us to be fully aware of the real potential for harm that comes with using social media, browsing the web and being online.
Yet there are several easy-to-implement steps you can take to safeguard your own and your family’s identities. In honor of Safer Internet Day, Feb. 6, consider these six easy steps you can take now to stay safe online.
1. Avoid saving passwords on websites and regularly clear browser cookies to enhance security.
A browser cookie, also referred to as a cookie, is a small piece of data that websites store on your device. Cookies are used to remember user preferences, track user behavior and enable personalized experiences on websites. Cookies present a security risk because they can be used as a target for malicious activities. Periodically clearing cookies helps maintain a level of privacy by removing stored information about your online activities.
2. Activate a VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi.
A VPN is a virtual private network and encrypts your internet connection, making it challenging for third parties to monitor your online activities. This encryption helps protect your privacy, especially when using public Wi-Fi networks where your data is more vulnerable to interception. Whether at airports, coffee shops or educational institutions, always use a VPN. Free versions can be found online or more robust paid versions can be found from trusted providers such as AURA.
3. Refrain from sharing sensitive information on social media platforms.
This includes contact information, photos, location information, workplace status and travel plans.
- Be wary of posting pictures online, restricting access only to close connections; even sharing with close contacts means they could potentially be used against you.
- Exercise extra caution when inputting sensitive information, such as email or passwords, ensuring the legitimacy of the platform to avoid falling victim to potential phishing attempts.
4. Employ robust and unrelated passwords for your accounts.
Hackers use various techniques, such as brute-force attacks or dictionary attacks, to crack passwords. A robust password with a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols makes it significantly more challenging for attackers to gain unauthorized access to your accounts. In the event of a data breach on a website or service where you have an account, having unique passwords for each account helps minimize the impact. Even if one set of login credentials is compromised, your other accounts remain secure as long as they have different passwords.
5. Only download apps from official sources.
That means the App Store (for iOS devices) or Google Play Store (for Android devices), and avoiding third-party app installations.
For iOS devices, before downloading an app, check the developer information on the App Store to ensure it’s a legitimate and well-known entity. For your Android devices, stick to downloading apps from the official Google Play Store. Google has built in security measures to scan and verify apps before they are made available on the Play Store. You can also enable Google Play Protect, a feature that scans apps for potential threats. To do so, go to “Settings” > “Security” > “Google Play Protect” and ensure it’s enabled.
6. Exercise discretion with links; only click on links from trusted and familiar sources.
Be wary of links in unsolicited emails, messages or social media posts, especially if they seem out of context.
- Check for “https://” in the URL, indicating a secure connection. However, this alone is not a guarantee of safety, so consider other factors as well.
- Hover your mouse over the link to preview the URL before clicking. Ensure that the web address matches the expected domain and doesn’t contain misspellings or additional characters.
- Avoid shortened URLs and exercise extra caution with them as they can conceal the actual destination. Use URL expander tools to reveal the full URL before clicking.
Knowledge is power!
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