As the number of data breaches and cyber attacks grows exponentially every year, learning how to protect personal information online has become crucial to all of us. Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as it may seem: hackers keep getting smarter and their tactics more polished. It takes an educated eye to spot a scam!
As common as cyber attacks may be, we are not entirely helpless against them. In this post, we’ll explore why and how you need to protect your data online, the most common types of cyber attacks, and the steps you can take to protect yourself from harm. Let’s get learning!
Why You Need to Protect Personal Information Online
Everybody should take some steps to protect personal information online. Cybersecurity statistics show that a new cyber attack occurs every 39 seconds. The consequences can be harrowing: identity theft, extortion, public humiliation, and the sale of your personal data on the “dark web”. You can check if you’ve been hacked or if your passwords have been leaked on Have I Been Pwned.
Hackers can also access automated smart home devices through smartphones and computers. That means they get access to your personal security cameras, locks, and appliances. The amount of power hackers have over their victims is daunting, so it’s crucial we learn how to recognize a cyber attack and react accordingly to it.
What are Common Cyber Security Concerns
Cyber attacks don’t just happen on their own. In fact, 98% of cyber attacks rely on social engineering – psychological manipulation of users to get them to perform a specific task. For example, security hackers trick users into accidentally giving away personal information online, such as passwords and credit card information.
These are the most common social engineering tricks:
- 80% of all social engineering attacks consist of phishing. Phishing emails or texts typically create a sense of urgency, such as saying that the user’s safety has been compromised and that they need to protect their personal information online by resetting their password or clicking on a link in the email.
- Similarly, pretexting relies on impersonating people or authority figures that the user knows or trusts, such as friends, co-workers, or the government. Again, victims are far more likely to react to these types of attacks as they assume that the email came from a trusted source.
- Scareware also relies on the user’s panicked reaction to a message, in this case in the form of an alarming pop-up. For example, the message may inform users that their computer is infected by malware and prompts them to download a rogue antivirus program. However, the program is, in fact, scareware, not antivirus software.
How You Can Protect Personal Information Online
Luckily, there are many steps users can take to protect their personal information online. Here are five actionable steps that should protect you from cyber-attacks.
1. Create Strong Passwords
Creating a strong password is the first actionable step you can take to protect your data online. Do not use personal information, such as names and birthdays, or predictable sequences like ‘123’. Instead, be as random as possible and use a mix of letters, numbers, uppercase letters, and symbols. And remember – no matter how convenient it is, you should steer clear of using the same password on various websites and services.
Use a password manager to keep track of your strong passwords and ensure they stay safe. LastPass can help you create stronger passwords and alerts you if your personal information is compromised.
2. Use 2-Factor Authentication When Possible
Multi-factor identification is one of the best ways to protect your privacy online. The most common type is 2-factor authentication (2FA). Aside from your password, you need to confirm your identity with another step, such as codes and fingerprints. Codes are provided through text-based services or apps, such as Google Authenticator.
2FA is easy to set up, and it goes a long way in protecting personal information online. You can add this step to social media profiles, productivity apps, online banks, emails, and password managers.
3. Be Mindful of What You Share on Social Media
As much as we like to share snippets of our private lives with our friends on social media, it’s important to remember that your posts and photos might not stay private once they’re published. Instagram and Snapchat are the most likely to get hacked, so be prudent about your social media activity. Keep your profiles private, and do not share any photos that identify your address or other important personal information.
Many mobile apps ask users for various permissions, including location and access to contacts and photos. Disable as many permissions as possible. That way, if your profile gets hacked, hackers cannot access your gallery and location history.
4. Avoid Using Free Public Wi-Fi & Hotspots
Think twice before using free public Wi-Fi. There’s no way of knowing whether the network uses encryption or not. Networks that are not secured are far more likely to get hacked, giving hackers access to the devices connected to the network. At the very least, you should avoid using public Wi-Fi for online shopping or when sharing private information.
Do not connect to a network you don’t know, either. If you intend to use public Wi-Fi in a coffee shop, for example, have the staff confirm that this truly is their network. Hackers can use these hotspots to pose as free Wi-Fi networks, also known as honeypots. Once you log on, hackers will get access to all your files on the computer and browsing history and passwords.
5. Think Before You React
Since most social engineering attacks rely on people’s panicked reactions, it’s important to remember to stay calm in case you receive an alarming message. Think before you act. If you receive an alarming message, make sure to check the sender before you click on any links or share any personal information.
Be suspicious of unsolicited emails that give off a sense of urgency. If you cannot tell whether the email from a specific company or person is real or fake, call them directly to confirm. When you identify a phishing email, report it, and delete it immediately.
Conclusion with Key Takeaways
Considering how common cyber-attacks are, you must take extra steps to protect your data online. Most attacks rely on social engineering tactics, such as phishing, pretexting, and scareware.
Protect personal information online by following these five rules:
- Create a strong password and use a password manager,
- Use 2-factor identification for your apps and services,
- Be mindful of what you post on social media,
- Avoid using public Wi-Fi and unknown hotspots,
- Think before you react when you receive emails that give off a sense of urgency.
Which cyber security steps have you taken to ensure your safety online? Comment below and share!