Lately, there has been a wave of ransomware and cyber attacks online that have left many businesses and individuals to compromise. Not only can these attacks damage your computer and compromise your data, but even more importantly, you could be a victim of identity theft. In this article, we’ll cover 10 steps you can follow to protect yourself from being a victim of these types of attacks.
1. Update Everything
The first order of business is to get everything on your computer up to date, beginning with your operating system. If you’re on a PC, you’re running Windows, and if you’re on a Mac, you’re running the Mac OS. If you’re not sure if you’re running the newest version, a simple search online will allow you to find that information quickly. If you’re not on the newest version of your operating system, then you should give serious consideration to upgrading. For example, if you’re running Windows XP or seven, you should stop what you’re doing right now and upgrade as soon as possible.
The next step is to make sure your antivirus software is up to date. Just like in the previous point, a quick search will help you identify where to look to find the anti-virus software information. If you don’t have this software installed on your computer, you should definitely get strong consideration to this, especially if you’re running Windows as your operating system.
Also, make sure the browser that you’re using to surf the web is also up to date using the newest version. Don’t forget to update the settings. First of all, enable the firewall on your computer and turn file sharing off as well.
It would be a good practice to require a password to be entered before your device can be accessed. Should your device be stolen, someone will not be able to access it without this information.
2. Encrypt Data
If you have a Mac computer, you have a file vault installed already on your computer through a few simple steps. Disk encryption will prevent the third party from accessing the content of the computer if it’s stolen. Otherwise, a thief could just rip the drive out and plug it into another computer to view the entire contents. The important thing to remember is that the password unlocks the data so don’t forget your password. You can put it in the password manager.
For Windows users, there are methods to encrypt the data on your computer. By encrypting your data, you essentially lock it so if your computer is compromised, someone cannot view the sensitive information you have stored.
3. Backup Data
Make a backup of your files in an off-site secure location. If you have a situation like ransomware that locks up your computer, you’ll be able to get around this issue because you have your data backed up and encrypted. The way these backup services work is that you pay a fee and then you back up your data to their off-site Cloud Storage.
Essentially, the way ransomware works are that once a hacker takes control of your computer, you have to pay them to get your computer back, or else it will be destroyed or compromised. But by having your data encrypted and backed up, you won’t be at the mercy of these types of attacks.
4. Create Strong Passwords
How many of us use the same password for everything? Why do we do this? It’s simple. We don’t want to forget the password and have to try to remember all the different passwords. As a result, we end up using the same password over and over. Here’s the problem with that, though. Once a site gets hacked where your username and password are stored, the hackers will then try to take that same information to other sites like banks or other social media accounts to gain access to sensitive information that they could use to exploit you even further. The assumption is that you probably use the same username and password combination on these other sites. And that’s a safe bet.
Here are some simple things you can do:
Get a tool that enables you to keep track of all your passwords in one place. The beauty of these apps is that you only need to know one password. When you enter your password into the app, it will populate the login information you previously stored into the site you’re trying to access.
Change your passwords every three months and avoid using your name birthday or initials in your password.
Use two-factor authentication on your accounts. By doing so, it makes it extremely hard, if not impossible, for someone to hack into your accounts. If you have this enabled, it will require you to have a physical token to move forward. For example, every time you log into your bank account, it texts you a code that you have to enter to log in. This approach helps add a huge layer of security.
5. Make Your Social Media Accounts Private
When it comes to identity theft, hackers can easily take the information you share online and then use it against you. Excited to share your birthday, your address, your hometown, or your mother’s name on your social media account? Think again. This information can be very powerful when someone is going to steal your identity. A good tip is to change the settings on your social media accounts to prevent your name from showing up if someone does a search online. By the way, it’s not a bad idea to search your name online from time to time. This way, you’ll see what information is out there. For all you know, there could be compromising information floating around; and you certainly want to get that removed.
6. Keep an Eye on Your Credit Cards Regularly
Check your credit card and bank accounts on a weekly basis. If there’s anything suspicious or odd, contact your credit card company immediately. Also, be sure to know what credit cards you carry in your wallet and the contact information for each in the event you lose your wallet and need to call in and cancel them.
When using ATM or credit card readers in public like at a gas pump, be sure to look for skimmer devices as these can easily pull your information off your card.
Limit the use of your debit cards for retail purchases or online because the law provides much more protection from liability when your credit card is illegally used than when your debit card is fraudulently used. Plus if anyone compromises your debit card and cleans out your bank account, it will be difficult to retrieve it.
Be sure as well to update your credit card to the newest that have the chips to ensure you have the highest level of security.
7. Be Vigilant When Using Public WiFi.
When using a wireless internet connection in a public place like a coffee shop, remember you’re on a network shared by others and you can be compromised. Some people don’t think about this when surfing the web in their hotel room. You’re on the same wireless connection with a lot of other people. And you need to be sure to turn off sharing in the settings of your device, enable your firewall settings and visit sites that are encrypted, which you can find at the top of your address bar.
8. Never Share Your Social Security Information
It’s often easy for individuals to start sharing their social security information when others ask for it, especially when dealing with professionals or other businesses you may trust. Once you give that information away on a public document or online, you are now trusting that company will keep that information secure. Are you 100% sure they will keep it secure? Be very cautious to whom you give this information. You technically don’t even have to share your social security information when visiting your doctor. Oftentimes, the billing staff will not be happy about this. But if they have the last four digits of your social security, that should be enough. Remember, if someone breaks into their offices or hacks into their network, your information is going to be compromised.
Also, be extremely cautious about what sites you share this information with online. Providing this information is a quick way for hackers to steal your identity. The less that information is out there, the less likely it is to be stolen.
9. Avoid Phishing
Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails that pretend to be from a reputable company in order to gain access to personal information from you like passwords or credit card numbers. You may have received emails before that have branding that is consistent with an institution or service you use, like a bank. Usually, in these emails, there’s a link requesting you to reset your password. And when you click on the link, it will take you to a site that looks just like your bank. Upon entering your personal information, they can now take that information to your bank’s website and gain access to it. Don’t fall for this. These institutions will not ask for you to send sensitive information over email. Also, whatever you do, don’t give out your personal information over the phone or email unless you initiated that contact.
10. Shred Your Documents
Shred your mail instead of tossing it into the trash. Invest in a good paper micro-shredder. If anyone gets into your garbage and steals your information, they can review your bank account information.
By following these steps, you’ll help ensure that you are not a victim of a hacker attempting to gain access to your sensitive information or steal your identity.
Desiree Macy is the Editorial Director of SIA Online Magazine which is frequented by security executives, corporate security officers, and private protection professionals each month. Desiree’s interests revolves around cyber-security, and business continuity.