The internet is amazing—when it’s amazing. It can also be scary, frightening, and downright dangerous.
Today, more than ever, making sure to protect yourself online is a vital part of guarding your productivity. Fixing the mess that can happen when you are careless with data – or even not diligent with guarding your data – can waste tons of valuable time and energy.
In Part 1 of this two-part series, we covered the risks you face when you don’t protect yourself online. Or better, why you should protect yourself online. Yet, that data doesn’t really do anything other than scare you if we don’t also share how you can shield yourself from these risks.
So how can you protect yourself online – from this myriad of cyber dangers – and guard your productivity from the potential negative after-effects? Here are some tips:
Be original with passwords and don’t use the same username and password combination on multiple sites
The first safeguard is to use passwords that are not simple, obvious, or easy to guess. Of course, this can be a pain – especially since many different sites have different password requirements, make you change your password frequently, and don’t let you re-use past passwords.
There are many different extensions and apps now that can help with this potentially-frustrating issue. For example, Last Pass and Roboform have only a minimal annual fee but store each of your passwords under one master password. Thus, when you come to a site and need to log in, you just enter the extension’s master password and the login is handled for you, from the stored information.
Don’t ever give your passwords to anyone—for any reason
This should be a given but way too many people still do it. Today, there is just no excuse for this. Even if you think an account is “harmless” and thus, it’s fine to give the login information to a child or assistant, it’s not a good idea. Your financial data may still be able to be seen on the back-end, as well as other personal data like home address, birth date, or even answers to common security questions.
Additionally, older children may give passwords to membership movie sites to friends, who then give it to other friends, and suddenly some level of personal account data is being seen – and/or becomes available – to people you may have never met, seen, or even know of at all. Believe it or not, this happens all the time and can be very worrisome. Especially if you use the same user name and password on other sites that have a greater depth of personal or financial access and information.
If you even think this is even a potential risk, create a gmail (or yahoo / hotmail / etc.) email address and password that you use on all membership sites that kids or other family members may be able to access. Then, for the payment source, use a prepaid debit card or credit card. That way, no one else will inadvertently have a username and password you use on other, more financially-sensitive, sites and they won’t have access to any of your other financial account data if they are given the information for a single site or service.
Change your password often
If your accounts don’t make you do it, set yourself reminders to change your password at regular intervals. Again, if this seems like a pain, tools and extensions like the ones mentioned above make it easier.
Always log out of financial sites when you are using them – whether on your phone, home computer, laptop, or work PC
Much important data has not only been stolen, it’s been simply taken—from careless people forgetting to log out and leaving a public device unattended. Or even from merely leaving their mobile device lying around, to be seen or taken by someone else.
Make sure to check your privacy settings on all social media accounts – and be cautious about the information available even to “friends”
Go through all your social media accounts and check your privacy settings. Especially if you have young children, make sure that you control who can see any pictures or other information about your kids. If your family connections show on Facebook, make sure “mother’s maiden name” is not a security question you use for other accounts. Don’t forget to look at who can tag you in photos and even consider the option that prevents tagging without your specific permission.
Likewise, check the settings on your pictures – on social sites and in photo storage sites too. Similarly, look at whether location sharing is enabled. Also check to see whether EXIF data – such as the geo coordinates of where pics were taken – is included on uploaded images. If it is, invest in a cheap editing program that can strip this data out before uploading.
Finally, always watch what you “say” (write) and where you “say” (write) it
Remember not to give too much information away in public forums. This includes telling when exactly you will be leaving for vacation, where you are going, and for how long. There are thieves who specifically scope out this data online. Also, remember your anniversary and birthdate – also two common security questions (and unfortunately, passwords and PINS for many) – are now public knowledge too, at least among “friends”. And while you think you know your friends, just remember the Internet makes that network exponentially larger and has expanded the definition of “friend” as a result.
While you can never protect yourself online completely, the steps above should definitely help you be safer. Since dealing with a breach in any of these areas can be a huge productivity zapper, safer is better than nothing and infinitely better than “sorry.”