The internet is where we make plans, keep in touch, learn, explore, shop, bank, and even (for many of us, thanks to the Cloud) work. This constant connectedness has lured most of us into a false sense of security. So many of us feel so safe online that we forget that the internet can be a very dangerous place and that it is important to keep your personal information protected and private.
If you haven’t done a security audit in a while, there’s no time like the present to do one! Here are some of the things you should do and check to make sure that your personal information is as safe as possible:
Is your security software up to date and as powerful as it should be? It isn’t enough to simply protect your computer against viruses and Trojan horses anymore. Today’s security software, says Trend Micro, should also offer identity protection and security. This means that your software should have code for the latest phishing scams and be able to scan email for messages that might be scams or contain bad code (or link out to bad code). If you haven’t updated or upgraded in a while, do that now and run the deepest scan you can.
Change Your Passwords
Every site needs to have its own username and password combination and those combos need to be changed regularly. Set an alert on your phone or calendar to remind you to change everything every few months. Yes, it is difficult to remember that many passwords and usernames; a secure password manager can help you make things simpler.
Make sure you choose passwords that are hard to crack. Studies have proven that longer, phrase-based passwords are much more difficult for hackers than shorter random combinations of symbols.
Create a Shield Email
You probably already have this, but if not it is time to create one: an email that is meant solely for website signups. This way all of their spam and newsletters congregate in one place and don’t take up space on your server. It also prevents hackers from getting your personal email address and using it to hack other important accounts. A better idea is to have at least four email addresses: a personal email, a work email, an email for important accounts (like your banking, utility and credit card accounts) and an email for website signups. Yes, keeping track of four emails feels time consuming but Gmail and most mail apps will let you check all of them at once, so you don’t have to worry about logging in and out of four separate accounts every day.
Create Dummy Accounts
Some banks offer “safe shopping” security measures like temporary credit card numbers that link to existing accounts. If your bank offers this, sign up for it! Of course, as we learned with Target, Home Depot, etc–it isn’t just online shopping portals that get hacked. This is why it’s a good idea to set up a separate checking account just for your shopping purchases. You can easily transfer money into them when you’re about to go to the store and then, if the account does get hacked, you don’t risk your primary account being compromised. Some people also choose to use pre-paid gift cards because they don’t want to have to deal with lots of different accounts.
Remove Personal Information
Anybody with $20 can do a quick “background check” through sites like Spokeo, etc and find out where you live, your phone number and a whole bunch of other information you might not necessarily want them to have. Getting your information removed from these services is tricky. There are, of course, companies that will do it for you for a fee. If you don’t want to pay that fee, though, it’s worth taking an hour or so each day to go through the process of removing your information from Spokeo and the other online data brokers.
A good way to keep it from popping back up (these companies buy records regularly) is to pay a visit to your County Records Clerk and ask to have your information removed or to substitute a PO Box for a street address.
Obviously these are just some of the things that you need to think about when you want to protect your information online. Your daily habits matter too. Make sure identifying markers like license plate numbers, name tags, street numbers, etc are blurred. Don’t give out your information to anybody online or over the phone. The more careful you are, the safer you will be!