Each time you connect to the Internet – whether at home, at work, or on your smartphone – you risk becoming the victim of a cybercrime. It's the price we pay for living in a digital world – something that the recent Equifax breach made very clear.
According to the Identity Theft Resource Institute, the number of U.S. data breaches in 2016 increased by 40%. As recently as May 2017, a widespread "ransomware" attack targeted personal computers across the globe. While software companies are continually developing strategies to combat the latest cybercrimes, there are some steps you can take to help protect yourself online.
The stronger, the better
It's a scary thought — most of us have a large amount of financial and personal information that's readily accessible through the Internet, in most cases protected by nothing more than a username and password.
You can create a new, stronger password by using a combination of lower- and upper-case letters, numbers, and symbols, or by using a random phrase. Avoid using a password with your personal information such as your name and address. In addition, have a separate and unique password for each account or website that you use.
If you have trouble keeping track of all your password information or you want an extra level of password protection, consider using password management software. Password manager programs generate strong, unique passwords that you control through a single master password.
Follow the 3-2-1 rule
Backing up your online data is critical to avoid losing valuable information due to a cyberattack. If you have digital assets that you don't want to risk losing forever, you should back them up regularly. This pertains to data stored on both personal computers and mobile devices.
When backing up data, a good rule to follow is the 3-2-1 rule. This rule helps reduce the risk that any one event — such as a computer hacker gaining access to your computer — will compromise your primary data and backups. In order to follow the 3-2-1 rule:
- Have at least three copies of your data (this means a minimum of the original plus two backups)
- Use at least two different formats (e.g., hard drive and cloud-based service)
- Ensure that at least one backup copy is stored in a separate location (e.g., safe-deposit box)
Stay one step ahead
Finally, the best way to avoid becoming the victim of a cybercrime is to stay one step ahead of the cybercriminals. Here are some extra precautions you can take before you go online:
Consider using two-step authentication. Two-step authentication, which involves using a text or email code along with your password, provides another layer of protection for your sensitive data.
Keep an eye on your accounts. Notify your financial institution immediately if you see suspicious activity. Early notification not only can stop the cyber thief but may limit your financial liability.
Think twice before clicking. Beware of emails containing links or asking for personal information. Never click on a link in an email or text unless you know the sender and have a clear idea where the link will take you.
Be careful when you shop. When shopping online, look for the secure lock symbol in the address bar and the letters https: (as opposed to http:) in the URL. Avoid using public Wi-Fi networks for shopping, as they lack secure connections.
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