Data theft isn’t just a threat to large corporations, governments, and small businesses. Hackers can steal sensitive information from anyone – especially home computer and mobile device users. For example, an email that looks perfectly legit could be a phishing scam that steals your personal information when you open it. The next app you download could contain a Trojan horse virus that takes over your mobile device without you knowing about it. Malware on your computer could steal your username and password to your online bank or shopping accounts. In short, there are numerous ways that individuals can be at risk of data theft. Here are the most important ways to secure your personal information from hackers.
- Use Strong Passwords
Passwords are your first line of defense against hackers stealing your personal data. Unfortunately, many people still use really simple, short passwords because they are easy for them to remember. Big mistake! Unfortunately, short, simple passwords are easy to guess – especially if a hacker knows other personal details about you. Furthermore, data thieves can use AI-powered software that can create many different alpha-numeric combinations that can guess short, commonly-used login credentials. Therefore, you must protect all of your online accounts by creating strong passwords that are at least eight characters long. You should use a combination of random letters, numbers, and special characters that would be difficult for anyone – or even a machine – to guess. Many websites will actually rate the strength of your passwords – and will tell you whether you need to strengthen them.
- Use Different Passwords for Each Online Account
Many people hate trying to remember multiple passwords, so they end up using the same login credentials for all of their accounts. However, if you use that strategy, once a hacker guesses your password, they can then gain access to all of your online accounts. Despite the inconvenience, you need to use different login credentials for each of your online accounts.
- Be Cautions When Opening Email Messages
Phishing email scams are one of the oldest tricks that hackers use to steal personal data. For example, you will get an email that looks completely legit. The message will ask you to click on a link to enter some type of personal information about yourself. Again, since the email looks legit, you might feel comfortable about giving your information. Unfortunately, you end up sending your data directly to a hacker without even knowing about it. Therefore, before you click on a link in an email message, make sure that you confirm the sender is legit. Look up the email address on Google to see if there are any reports of scams. If there is any doubt, don’t share any personal information.
- Keep Your Software Up-to-Date
One way that data thieves can exploit your computer or mobile device is by finding security holes in the device’s software. That’s why you should always download and install software updates as soon as they are available. If you use a Windows-based device, make sure that it’s set to automatically install all Windows updates. Google and Apple will also alert users to new updates for their respective devices.
- Disconnect Your Computer and/or Mobile Devices from the Internet When You Are Not Using Them
Many users tend to leave your computer on – and connected to the internet – while taking a break from using it. However, just because your internet browser isn’t open, it doesn’t mean that your computer isn’t at risk of getting hacked. Strange as it may sound, hackers will often target devices while they are in standby mode because they believe there is a greater chance they can get away with hacking. Therefore, you should always take the time to disconnect your computer from the internet any time that you aren’t using it.
- Set Browser Security Settings
Even though major search engines try to identify and ban – or at least warn users about – websites with security threats, you can still inadvertently visit them. However, you can protect your computer and mobile device by adjusting your browser’s security settings. For example, you can set your browser to warn you about potentially dangerous websites. Many browsers offer ad blockers and pop-up blockers that can prevent sites from hiding malware in what appear to be online ads.
- Install Internet Security Software
You should never use a computer or mobile device to browse the internet without antivirus and anti-malware software installed on it. Furthermore, you keep your internet security software up-to-date, as well as run daily scans on all of your devices. While most users have antivirus software installed on their computers, many still don’t see a need for it on their mobile devices. Make sure that your smartphone has internet security software. If in doubt, ask your wireless provider.
- Install a Firewall
In addition to antivirus protection, you can further protect your computer from hackers by installing a firewall that can stop someone from virtually accessing your computer. All Windows-based devices come with a firewall already installed. You just need to make sure that it’s turned on by visiting your device’s security settings.
- Use a VPN for Wireless Connections
If you connect a laptop or tablet to the Internet using a Wi-Fi connection, then your data is at risk of being intercepted by hackers. However, you can secure your device’s wireless connection by installing a VPN. Most internet security software companies offer a VPN as part of their services. Keeping your personal information safe while using a Wi-Fi connection is worth the money.
- Avoid Using Unsecured Cloud Storage Platforms
Finally, you need to be careful about storing your digital documents in cloud-based storage platforms because many of them don’t encrypt data. Before signing up for a cloud storage platform, check out online reviews to see if it uses data encryption. Another option for backing up your digital documents is using a USB flash drive. Just make sure you keep your flash drive in a safe place.
In short, there is no 100% full-proof way to prevent hackers from stealing your personal information. However, if you create multiple, strong passwords for all of your online accounts, install antivirus software and a firewall on all of your computing devices, and use common sense when browsing the Internet, you can significantly decrease the chances that a hacker will be able to steal your data. If you still feel concerned about data thieves, you can consult an IT security specialists to recommend more precautions to protect yourself online.