To begin a discussion regarding protecting your cyber accounts, it is important to first secure whatever accounts you have that are held online. We have all heard about the unfortunate reoccurrence of both data breaches and password leaks which have impacted major companies that many of us do business with. We could write an entire blog post just on the companies that have had their data infiltrated by unwanted persons. Since almost everyone who spends money these days does so in part online you must take steps to safeguard your accounts and passwords for accessing different websites.
While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of data breaches and password leaks, after all, you can only do so much in a situation like this, you can search for different websites that can tell you whether your e-mail address has been compromised in one of these large company data heists. Different websites like these can cross reference your e-mail address with hundreds of data breaches which would allow you to see the extent to which your information may have been compromised when one of these big companies has their online storage holdings hacked into.
One of the simplest things that you can do is to use a password manager that generates and remembers different and varyingly complex passwords for each of your accounts. Some websites can manage your passwords for you and many of these two do so at minimal cost. There may even be no-cost services provided through the maker of your laptop or tablet so that you can begin to implement these steps right away with minimal cost to you. The nice thing about using a website that generates these complex passwords is that they can, for a fee, monitor your accounts for breaches and even suggest updating passwords that are classified as weak. Another update that you could do simply is to change the basic passwords that you use for your home internet, for example.
Two-step authentication is another helpful means to protect your online accounts. Many banks and big social networks provide you with an option to do so. What a two-step authentication requires is for you to enter your password and then enter a number that only you can access provided by the website. Once you have logged into the website using this material you can be sure that your information is kept safer and the ability for your data to be compromised becomes much less.
How can you surf the web safer?
Whether you are looking for a new pair of shoes or simply looking for the score of a football game, websites keep track of everything that you do online. The advertisements that are presented to you, the social media websites that you frequent, and every other action you perform online are intended to help websites collect information about your location, where you surf the web and additional data that may be helpful to them. While you may not think that your online habits to this basic extent can tell companies much about you their numbers suggest that your basic Internet surfing tendencies tell more about you than you may think.
One of the best examples that I can think of regarding this subject relates to a friend of mine who prides themselves on not oversharing on social media. For example, this person considers themself to be someone who keeps their social media limited to updates about food and very basic things like this. What this friend does not do is share information about their political beliefs or religious affiliation. He thinks that by doing so there is less of an opportunity for companies who collect data to be able to pinpoint what his main beliefs are and that this can keep his information safer.
However, simply by keeping track of the websites he frequents, advertisers and others are likely able to have a good idea of the type of person that he is Despite that he limits his online habits to mundane actions. So, he was wondering a few weeks ago how the social media websites he uses knew exactly what sort of political ads to run promoting a local politician as well as how a camp associated with his religious denomination knew to advertise a camp aimed at children the same age as my friend’s kids. This is the power of tracking websites and online behavior. Even if you barely use the Internet and never share personal information this type of data can be kept and tracked to benefit advertisers and businesses.
To counteract this development there are various browser extensions that you can download which block advertisements and the data that they collect. Some of these browser extensions even allow you to prevent malware from running within the browser itself. These extensions also allow you to turn off the ad blocking when you find yourself in a position where you want to be able to support websites that you know are secure. Various other applications with privacy in mind can block trackers which prevent these obtrusive ads from following you from website to website. I am probably not the only one to notice when advertisements pop up on multiple websites all on the same day.
We all hear about and see advertisements for virtual private networks or VPNs. A virtual private network can be helpful to protect your information if you are frequently on public wireless Internet. A VPN can provide privacy from your Internet service provider and help reduce the amount of tracking that is done based on your IP address. Keep in mind, however, that if you choose to use a VPN then all of your Internet surfing would still go through those provider's mainframes and servers. It would be ironic, for example, if the VPN would choose to sell your data to websites. I'm not saying that this is happening on any grand scale, but it is something to bear in mind and keep track of.
The old standby: antivirus software
We used to hear a lot more about viruses that could infect your computer much to all our chagrin. While viruses may not be as common as they were 10 years ago or at least we are not hearing about them as much, they very much still do exist. Different types of software on your computer can attack your files and Internet browsers. Anyone who's experienced obtrusive pop-up advertisements can attest to this. If you are someone yeah shares your home computer with other people, then it makes sense to download antivirus software. This is especially true if you have a Windows-based computer.
Windows has built-in software that you can and should utilize. In fact, for most people reading this blog post, the built-in Windows antivirus software should do the trick. There is additional antivirus software that you can download to supplement the types that are provided on your computer.
How can your internet habits impact your online safety?
The operating system on your phone and computer, websites, applications for your phone, and even the devices that you use in your home will receive updates with new features and improvements to security. Whatever updates are provided to you from these places are typically better at helping you avoid hackers than antivirus software is. You can take advantage of these updates by looking at your phone or tablet and checking the box that allows the operating system to update automatically. Although the updates can take some time to complete the benefits from a security perspective are immense.
Be aware of the software that you are downloading
It is good practice to be skeptical of different apps and browser extensions that you can download. The app stores which make different applications, browser extensions, and other software available to you are not necessarily in the business of verifying that each of these is legitimate and that their data collection methods are above board. You should be aware that some mobile apps can track your location wherever you go and can take your data with them to use in various ways whether you give it permission to or not.
Look right now on the home screen of your phone and be judicious with the way that you download apps. You may find that your phone immediately begins to work better and operate faster by deleting apps that you do not use. You can limit which apps have access to your location, camera, microphone, and other data in the digital world. Some apps require that you provide them with your location for them to function, but other apps do not need their specific location to do so. A good rule of thumb to consider is that apps that are free may not collect and sell your data. However, apps that charge you a fee to download them likely are.
Consider emergency scenarios
Have you ever given any thought to what could happen if you lose your phone or computer? If your phone is lost or someone steals it then you need to be able to lock it down. Many cell phones these days allow you to set up a security feature where you must have your fingerprints analyzed or even your face scanned to log into the phone. There are also remote tracking features that are available to you on your phone that can be helpful for you to locate the phone if you lose it in your home or even if it is stolen.
Let's say that you are on a business trip, and you lose your laptop, or worse yet someone steals it. When a thief steals your laptop, he gets a two-for-one deal. The first item that he gets is your laptop. This has value in and of itself. However, a truly enterprising thief would understand that he has also stolen your data and if he can access that laptop then the data within would be much more valuable than the laptop itself. To counteract this, you can create a password as well as a security key on your laptop to protect your information. Your employer may already have some sort of encryption set up on the device in question.
Always think about safety and protection
When it comes to concepts of security and privacy, you need to have the mindset that both are essential. Yes, it will take some degree of effort and planning for you to consider and think about both subjects but that does not mean that it isn't worth it to do so. Today's blog post is all about you developing a plan and sticking to it when it comes to issues related to data security. However, if you can go through the suggestions, we provide in this blog post and then perform your research all you need to do is decide what is best for your family when it comes to your data.
One of the most basic pieces of advice that can be provided when it comes to cyber accounts and security is to be cautious about what you click on as far as links provided in emails and on social media. So much of the time we trust what we see online and are willing to click various links because the thought is that what we see online is safe and the people that we interact with online are known to us and would not provide us with faulty information or compromised material.
However, this is a mistake, and you need to be intentional about what you are clicking on and how willing you are to trust the people in your social network to not have been compromised themselves by hackers and malware. Before you decide to click on a link or a photograph consider whether you must do so and if you are better off forgoing the click and instead choosing to do something else. While it may not be the most ideal situation in the world taking the time to plan out how you use social media has tremendous advantages for you when it comes to data security.
A basic security measure that many people do not choose to implement is to make any accounts that you have online private rather than public. This simply means that you should choose to make your social media only searchable and accessible to people in your circle of friends. If a person whom you do not know can search through your profile and obtain basic information about you then it is entirely possible that he or she could then use that information to collect your data or otherwise harm you.
Another security measure that you may choose to implement is to use an e-mail address that you created solely to shop online. The reality of the situation is that the more you shop online and the more you put your credit card information out there the more sources that a potential hacker would be able to take advantage of when it comes to taking your information and using it for bad things. There is no perfect way to protect your e-mail account so having a specific e-mail address set up for online purchases may be a good option for you if you are someone who shops online with any frequency.
On the flip side, your real e-mail address as well as your phone number should not be advertised or given out online much, if at all. These are two basic pieces of information that a hacker can use to find out more about you. When you are on social media, it is best to not over-share information. Social media can feel like a comfortable world where you can share information without much consequence. This is exactly what social media companies want you to be able to feel like.
However, there are risks to using social media and the safety of your data and the ability for that data to be compromised is one of those risks. A good rule of thumb is that if something seems suspicious or if you have any hesitancy about clicking a link or putting down your information then you should probably just move on. So much of what we do online is unnecessary. You can choose to purchase an item a different way or simply forgo clicking a link to see a video from a website that you have never heard of before.
Always have your antenna up about issues regarding data security and your cyber accounts. Once you are intentional about these two subjects then the chances of your information and data being compromised decreases significantly.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed estate planning attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas estate planning as well as how your family may be impacted by the filing of a probate case.