Protect Yourself Online

7 Easy Steps You Can Do to Be More Secure Online

1. Install an Antivirus and Keep It Updated

We call this type of software antivirus, but fending off computer viruses is just a small part of what they do. Ransomware encrypts your files and demands payment to restore them. Trojan horse programs seem valid, but they steal your private information behind the scenes. Bots turn your computer into a soldier in a zombie army, ready to engage in a denial-of-service attack, spew spam, or whatever the bot herder commands. An effective antivirus protects against these and many other kinds of malware.

Theoretically, you can set and forget your antivirus protection, letting it hum in the background, download updates, and so on. In practice, you should look it over now and then. Most antivirus utilities display a green banner or icon when everything is hunky-dory. If you open the utility and see yellow or red, follow the instructions to get things back on track.

You may be thinking, wait, isn’t antivirus built into Windows? Not only is Microsoft Defender baked into the operating system, it automatically takes over protection when it detects no other antivirus and just as automatically steps aside when you install third-party security. The thing is, this built-in antivirus doesn’t compare with the best third-party solutions. Even the best free ones are way better than Microsoft Defender. Could you not rely on it; you can do better.

2. Use Unique Passwords for Every Login

One of the easiest ways hackers steal information is by getting a batch of username and password combinations from one source and trying those combinations elsewhere. For example, hackers got your username and password by hacking an email provider. They might try to log into banking sites or significant online stores using the same username and password combination. The best way to prevent one data breach from having a domino effect is to use a strong and unique password for every single online account you have.

Creating a unique and strong password for every account is not a job for a human. That is why you use the random password generator built into your password manager. Several excellent password managers are free, and it takes little time to use one. For-pay password managers generally offer more features, however.

When you use a password manager, the only password you need to remember is the master password that locks the password manager itself. When unlocked, the password manager logs you into your online accounts automatically. That helps keep you safer and increases your efficiency and productivity. You no longer spend time typing your logins or dealing with the time-consuming frustration of resetting a forgotten password.

One more thing to consider. If you get creamed by a self-driving car tomorrow, how will your heirs manage to access your accounts? The most advanced password managers let you identify a password heir, someone who will receive access to your account after you shuffle off this mortal coil.

3. Use Multi-factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication means you must pass another layer of authentication, not just a username and password, to get into your accounts. Multi-factor authentication can be a pain, but it makes your accounts more secure. If the data or personal information in an account is sensitive or valuable, and the account offers multi-factor authentication, you should enable it. Gmail, Evernote, and Dropbox are a few online services providing multi-factor authentication.

Multi-factor authentication verifies your identity using at least two different forms: something you are, have, or know. Something you know is the password, naturally. Something you are could mean authentication using a fingerprint or facial recognition. Something you have could be your mobile phone. You might be asked to enter a code sent via text or tap a confirmation button on a mobile app. Something you have could also be a physical Security Key; Google and Microsoft have announced a push toward this kind of authentication.

Enabling Multi-factor authentication for your password manager is a must. Anyone who learns that password owns your account if you use a password for authentication. With multi-factor authentication enabled, the password alone is useless. Most password managers support multi-factor, though some only require it when they detect a connection from a new device.

4. Use Different Email Addresses for Different Accounts

People who are both highly organized and methodical about their security often use different email addresses to keep the online identities associated with them separately. If a phishing email claiming to be from your bank comes to the account you use only for social media, you know it’s fake.

Consider maintaining one email address dedicated to signing up for apps you want to try, which might have questionable security or spam you with promotional messages. After you’ve vetted a service or app, sign up using one of your permanent email accounts. If the dedicated account starts to get spam, close it, and create a new one. This is a do-it-yourself version of the masked emails you get from Abine Blur and other disposable email account services.

Many sites equate your email address with your username, but some let you select your username. Now anyone trying to enter your account must guess the username and password. Consider using a different username every time—your password manager remembers it!

5. Regularly Clear Your Cache

Never underestimate how much your browser’s cache knows about you. Saved cookies, saved searches, and Web history could point to home addresses, family information, and other personal data.

To better protect that information that may be lurking in your Web history, delete browser cookies and clear your browser history regularly. It’s easy. In Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Internet Explorer, or Opera, press Ctrl+Shift+Del to create a dialogue that lets you choose which elements of browser data you want to clear. If you use a different browser, try that key combo regardless; it might work. Otherwise, search the menu.

Deleting cookies may cause trouble for some websites—you may lose any personalization you’ve applied. Most browsers let you list favourite websites whose cookies shouldn’t be tossed.

For a complete guide to getting started, you can read our feature on clearing your cache in any browser.

6. Turn Off the ‘Save Password’ Feature in Your Browser

Speaking of what your browser may know about you, most browsers include a built-in password management solution. We at PCMag don’t recommend them, however. We feel it’s best to leave password protection to the experts who make password managers.

Think about this. Installing a third-party password manager typically offers to import your password from the browser’s storage. If the password manager can do that, you can be sure some malicious software can do the same. In addition, keeping your passwords in a single, central password manager lets you use them across all browsers and devices.

7. Protect Social Media Privacy

A common saying is that if you’re not paying for a service, you’re not a customer; you’re the product. Social media sites allow you to share your thoughts and pictures with friends, but sharing too much is easy.

You don’t need to know which personality or superhero you are. You can download your Facebook data to see what the social media giant knows about you. It may be quite an eye-opener, especially if you’re the kind of person who routinely clicks on quizzes that require access to your social media account.

Beware, too, of hackers posing as your social media friends. A common scam starts with a private message and ends with hackers taking over your account and using it to continue the scam. If you get an odd or unexpected private message from a friend, ask about it using email or other communication. Your friend may have been scammed.

You can drastically reduce the amount of data going to Facebook by disabling the sharing platform entirely. Once you do, your friends can no longer leak your data. You can’t lose data to apps because you can’t use apps. And you can’t use your Facebook credentials to log into other websites (which was always a bad idea).

Of course, other social media sites need attention too. Google probably knows more about you than Facebook, so take steps to manage your Google privacy, too. Ensure you’ve configured each social media site so your posts aren’t public (all except Twitter and other broadcast media services). Please think twice before revealing too much in a post since your friends might share it with others. With care, you can retain your privacy without losing the entertainment and connections of social media.

(Credit: PCMag)

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