Protect yourself online

Take matters into your hand by doing a self-assessment of your Internet habits and your current level of risk or “exposure.” Then, take preventive measures to keep strangers, friends, hackers and enemies out of your computer and out of your personal data.

Here’s a list of ideas that can help you strengthen your privacy walls.

1. Review and secure your social media accounts.

Make a list of your accounts (Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.) and decide which ones you need and those you can eliminate.
Change the passwords for each one. Consider using a password manager to create hard to break secret codes.
See which accounts provide an extra layer of security with two-factor authentication.
2. Change your passwords on all other accounts. Do it immediately (especially if you’ve had the same password on any one account for more than a year. Some people have more than 100 passwords that they’ve never changed. Some people have a few passwords for many accounts (a bad idea).

3. Use an Encrypted Operating System. It’s referred to as Full Disk Encryption on Windows 10, and File Vault on Mac OS. It makes data stored on your computer data unreadable to anyone who doesn’t have proper authorization. Encryption scrambles your data so that only you, with the right encryption, key can make the data readable again.

4. Get smart about smart device security. For many people today, a smart phone and/or table is the connectivity of choice. Smartphones can use passcodes (not passwords) and it’s a good idea to read up on how to create a strong one. A smart device is more likely to be lost or stolen than a laptop. Experts suggest you “Lojack” your iPad with a find my iPad app, for instance. There’s even a self-destruct mode you can enable. (It doesn’t blow up, but all the data is lost.)

5. Cut back on data sharing. Don’t be so agreeable when filling out forms online or in person. Companies ask for data from you because they want to collect, organize, use, and maybe even share or sell it! Be cautious who you are giving data to and why

6. Don’t use public computers. Think of a library computer or Internet cafe computer as a public toilet. You never know who was their before you. Not only could a hacker be nearby to spy on you using the available Wi-Fi, but the previous user could have set a trap to capture your data when you go online. Beware! Instead, take your own computer to the library.

7. Don’t use free Wi-Fi. What!? Give up the ability to shop, text and send emails from almost anywhere?! Yes, unless you have protected your device before hand with a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

8. Use a VPN whenever you’re online. A Virtual Private Network is not as mysterious or secretive as it sounds. With a VPN account turned on, you’re Internet activity is tunneled through a hacker-proof, spy proof network. Hackers can’t steal and/or read your data transmissions when it’s in transit over the Internet. You open a VPN account online, then ensure it’s active or “running” before you go on the Internet.

9. Use an off-site online backup service. Think of this as a safety deposit box for a copy of your data, which is encrypted and stored on secure, high-storage-capacity server computers. If your computer’s data is ever corrupted, you can easily retrieve the backup copy. Carbonite is a good vendor to look at.

10. Keep operating systems and software up to date. Whenever there’s new software for your device, update immediately. Often companies release security updates to fix bugs that could give hackers access.

11. Look into encryption programs. But while encryption is important, the first line of defense is making sure you’re following basic security measures to protect your devices and your accounts.

12. Don’t get scammed. Learn how to spot and avoid phishing scams, where criminals use tricks to get you to open emails that can infect your computer or lure you into schemes that steal your money or your identity.

13. Double-check everyone. Learn to distrust “online strangers” (people you don’t know or who reach out to you first), especially those posing as authorities or representatives of companies you know. Check them out carefully however you can.