We live in a digital world where all our pictures, files, and information are stored on hard drives and clouds. This makes our lives more convenient, but it also makes stealing our information easier for hackers, the thieves of the internet. Hackers are always on the hunt for bank account numbers, passwords, and sensitive material that they can use to steal your identity.
When a hacker breaks into your computer, they gain access to all of your files and stored information. They can save or delete whatever they want just as if they were using your computer in your house, and they can download additional viruses.
In addition to the damage done by hacking, these cyber-attacks on individuals and companies cost between $375 and $575 billion per year. The worst part is most cyber criminals, including the most successful ones, are never caught. Hackers are operating freely all over the world and they continue to develop new methods for getting into people’s devices. It’s more important than ever to ensure that your technology is hacker proof.
Here are 5 of the best ways to keep hackers out of your devices and out of your life:
Protect Your Passwords
Avoid keeping your passwords in an unprotected file on your phone or computer such as a note or a word file. Also, make sure not to keep them stored on an online service or app like Evernote or Google Docs. Consider writing them down in a notebook that you keep at home in a safe place, and make a copy and keep it in a locked drawer at work.
If you’d rather keep them in digital format, you can use a password manager such as LastPass or Password Boss to keep your passwords and online accounts secure. At the very least, do not use the same password for every website and do not use very obvious passwords that are easy to guess. These may be passwords with your kid’s name, your birthday, or the name of the website, for example. If it’s really easy for you to remember, it might be easy for someone else to figure out.
Also, it’s a good idea to change your passwords about every six months, especially for your important accounts.
Use a VPN When Connecting to Wi-Fi
VPNs encrypt your information and make it impossible for anyone else to see what you’re doing online. This means they can’t determine which websites you’ve been using, and they can’t discover your passwords either. Using public Wi-Fi and hotspots is something a lot of people do frequently, but it’s more dangerous than most people realize.
Trusting someone else’s internet with your private online affairs exposes your activities and accounts to hackers. Using a VPN is one thing that can help keep you safe when connecting to these types of public networks. VPNs have many other functions and are commonly used to bypass censorships and access geo restricted content.
For example, you may have heard of people using a proxy to stream Netflix so they can watch their favorite movies and shows while in other countries. A VPN can help you stay safe and provide you with these additional benefits.
Stick to Secure Websites
Hackers and their viruses lurk in the unsecured parts of the web, so it’s best to stick to using websites that are verified and secure. This is especially important when it comes to downloading files. You never want to download a file that comes from an untrustworthy website as it may be loaded with viruses.
These viruses are not only bad for your computer, but they can also unlock the door for hackers to enter and steal your information. A secure website uses HTTPS (think S for secure) and has a padlock icon to the left of the URL address. A green address and padlock indicates that you are using a very secure website that is safe to download files from.
If you can’t see any of this in your URL bar, consider using another website and definitely do not download anything.
Screen Your Emails
One of the easiest ways to get a virus and make yourself vulnerable to hackers is to open unsolicited emails. Hackers and scammers often get into your computer by sending bad emails or by posing as legitimate organizations requesting information.
If you use a reputable email service like Gmail or Yahoo! Mail, most of these should end up in your spam folder before you even get to see them. However, they may not all be filtered out and can be confused with emails sent from websites and organizations that you regularly deal with and subscribe to.
Take the time to screen each email before opening it to ensure that the sender is someone you can trust, and don’t believe everything you read. The subject lines of these emails will often offer cash or prizes, or they’ll contain “urgent” messages regarding one of your accounts. Many of them are easy to spot, but some take a little more scrutinizing.
When in doubt, don’t open the email, and contact the organization directly to see what’s going on with your account.
Install Anti-Virus Software
Anti-virus software is available for all devices and most operating systems including Windows and macOS. Many services allow you to protect your computers, tablets, and phones with a single subscription, giving you extra protection across all your gadgets.
Anti-virus software scans your device and all of your files for viruses before you open them. This greatly reduces your risk of getting a harmful virus and letting hackers in. Your anti-virus software will also frequently update its list of virus definitions to better identify viruses that can come in contact with your computer.
Some of the best paid anti-virus software today comes from companies like McAfee, Bitdefender, and Avast. There are several great free options as well if purchasing software is not in your budget right now.
If you want to be vigilant about the security of your information, it’s important that you take these five necessary steps as soon as possible. You are in control, and it’s up to you to use good judgement when downloading files, using public networks, and opening emails. In addition, make sure to keep your passwords in a secret, safe place and update them regularly. While it may seem like a lot of trouble, it’s worth saving yourself from the bigger problems that come from being hacked.