We truly live in an age of wonders. We have smartphones that can both speak to us and understand what we’re saying to them. We can video chat with someone halfway around the world, from the comfort of our own home. We can access literally trillions of pieces of information on the world wide web. At no other point in human history have we been able to achieve so much, so easily.
But like everything else in life, there’s always looking to take advantage of new developments, even if someone else gets hurt. Hackers, internet pirates and scammers, and even digital terrorists are all very real threats that have even grown even more dangerous in recent years. If you need proof of that, look no further than the recent cybersecurity breach at Equifax from July, 2017, when over 140 million people had their personal details, including social security numbers and current addresses, stolen.
While I’m certainly not trying to scare you away from the many conveniences and resources that the digital age can offer you, I am saying that you have to take steps to protect your information. The problem is online security is that there’s no such thing as a perfect system, and everything done through computers is vulnerable in some way. I don’t care how many assurances a website or company gives you, or what the terms of your contract say, there’s always a chance that your data could be compromised.
To help better safeguard your information, here are three precautions that you need to take to ensure that your personal information is as safe as it can possibly be.
#1. Never Use the Same Password on Multiple Sites
I know it’s tempting, but if you’re using the same password for every single website that you visit, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
I understand your reasoning – most sites now, especially online stores and financial sites, require you to come up with some crazy combinations of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, special characters, and character counts. With such a seemingly random assortment of criteria, it can be hard enough coming up with just one easy-to-remember password, let alone dozens, but it’s something you need to do.
The reason is obvious: if a hacker or data thief manages to find out what your one password is, they now have access to every single account you use online. They may only hack a site that contains your name, address and email, but that’s more than enough for them to bluff that way to other sites you use, where more sensitive data is stored.
#2. Protect Your Browsing History
This alone is annoying, but otherwise harmless though. To a hacker though, your browsing data is a goal mine they can tap into to steal your identity. Using your archival data, hackers are able to learn your browsing habits, any online purchases you’ve made, and pinpoint your location. Even if they don’t use the information directly, it can be passed on to scammers who will use that information against you.
For example, if a hacker identifies that you just purchased something from Amazon, a scammer could then call or email you and say there’s a problem with processing your payment, and they need your credit card number again.
Limit the number of sites that you allow to store your data permanently, and delete both your browsing history and cookies at least once a month. You should even consider setting up a VPN on all of your devices, especially if you use public Wi-Fi extensively.
#3. Never Use Auto-Fill for Financial Information
Another common temptation, especially if you’re a Google Chrome user, is to have your web browser store your data to auto-fill forms in the future. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s dangerous.
Most prominent online stores, like those at Apple or Amazon, have extensive levels of cybersecurity to detect, prevent, or subvert a breach, and protect your information. But your Google user profile doesn’t have the same extensive level of protection. Especially if you’re operating on an open network or server, the chances of your data being shoot up exponentially.
To this end, never use the autofill feature to store your credit card or bank account information, and I wouldn’t recommend it for anything other than your email.