Do you enjoy tap-dancing on live, unexploded land mines? Going online unprotected, even for the shortest length of time, might not result in that kind of loss of life or limbs, but it’s just about as reckless. The internet used to be thought of as the wild west. These days it’s more like Thunderdome (you’re welcome for the old school Mad Max reference). Malware, hacks, and scams of every variety lie around any corner, waiting to suck up your personal information and take out a big loan in your name. But wait! Don’t swear off the cyber world forever. Here are 10 ways to combat hacker skullduggery before it ruins your life.
- Better Passwords
Are you tired of hearing online security gurus incessantly browbeat you about the necessity of creating strong, unique passwords? Too bad, because that’s what we’re going to do. But seriously, there is no better single, simple way to secure your financial and personal information. The reason the gurus parrot this line until you’re sick is because it is true. What makes a good password? At least eight characters comprised of lower and uppercase letters, numbers, and a special character. That’s not too hard, is it? And change passwords every six months. If all these seems like much too onerous a chore, consider a password manager. This and other types of online privacy tools are specialty software that practically do the thinking for you when it comes to maintaining passwords and securing yourself against an increasingly hostile internet.
- Meet Mr. Firewall…
Think of a firewall as an electronic barrier that keeps bad guys from getting into your computer and other devices attached to the internet, including the rapidly growing internet of things (IoT). Most security software includes a firewall as an integral part of the suite and prompts you to turn it on upon installation. This is a good idea. Those devices that make up a smart home like thermostats and security cameras have become a superhighway through which hackers can penetrate your network. In short, a firewall is a really good idea.
- …And Uncle VPN
With tough passwords and a rugged firewall in place, you should be feeling more secure already. But here’s a question. Do you ever take advantage of free public wi-fi when you’re out and about? These are prime spots where hackers hang out to get into your device through what are largely unsecured connections. That’s where a virtual private network (VPN) can ride in on a white stallion to save the day. This software costs a little bit – seriously, just a little bit – but creates a secure internet connection no matter where you login from.
- Don’t Be a Silly Sharer
We shouldn’t still have to warn you about this but NEVER share your personal identifying information unless you’re darn sure whom it’s going to and that they have a legitimate need for it. Your bank, Amazon, the IRS – these businesses will never call and ask for your personal or financial information. Remember, you don’t have to share just because someone asks for it. It’s way too easy for a hacker to impersonate you and do lots of damage (probably ruining your credit in the process) before you know it.
- Think Before You Click
So many of today’s online security threats are set into motion by the victim’s own hand (or finger) when he or she clicks on a link in a spam email intended to trick you into downloading malware onto your device. Another tactic is to prompt you to give up personal or financial information through promises of free gifts that will make all your wildest dreams come true. Come on. You know better than that. Think before you click.
- Know the Latest Creations
Hackers don’t rest on their laurels. There are new and sneakier types of malware arriving on the scene all the time. Ransomware has been hot for a year or so now, but you can bet there’s another permutation being developed this very moment. You don’t have to be a certified computer geek but at least make it a goal to have a general awareness of the latest online threats.
- Update Software
Sure, updating your software can be annoying. It’s also important in order to apply the latest bug fixes and security patches. Know what’s even more annoying? Getting hacked and having your checking account emptied when a hacker gets into your system. Turning on automatic updates and regular malware scans is a low-effort, high-reward step to take.
- The Impervious Mobile Device
That title is a joke. Your mobile device can be hacked as easily as your computer. The usual route in is via infected apps and phishing links. The remedies require nothing but common sense from a user. Don’t download and install any app that doesn’t come from an official store and has legitimate reviews. Likewise, be suspicious of any link in an email unless you know for darn sure it is credible.
- Practice Safe Interneting
It’s so fun and easy to shop online. Until you lose your credit card info to a bad actor. For safety, make sure the URL of any web page you are preparing to enter payment details on starts with an “https” rather than just “http.” That extra “s” means the website is safe to use and all data associated with your payment is encrypted. That’s a good thing.
- Back Up the Truck
Backups are another annoyance that too many people ignore. Set up your system to do it automatically and you can mostly forget about it. In the event you acquire a malware infestation, it’s a relatively minor matter to roll back the system to a point in time before the malware was introduced. Presto! Bad guys thwarted. But only if you actually do the backup.
Bloggers, in particular, can’t afford to not create regular backups. You work too long and too hard creating written masterpieces (or some approximation thereof) to let some hacker tear it to pieces with ads for male enhancement inserted into your copy. Especially if you use an uber-popular CMS like WordPress, backups are a snap. There is literally no reason not to take this and other protective steps for your blog unless you’re in a coma and plan to stay there for a while.
Take This Seriously!
We didn’t go to the trouble of putting together a lengthy article just so you could ignore all this good advice and go out there and immediately get yourself hacked. Reading about it is fine. Taking action is better. One thing is almost absolutely certain. Every day that goes by that you ignore your online safety brings you one day closer to a security apocalypse. Don’t say we didn’t warn you. And if you’re part of the freelancing economy and rely on a functioning website to bring in the bacon, it’s even more important to understand how to set it up so that hackers can’t tear it down. Once again, we told you so!