We keep more things online now than we ever have, and that means there are always new risks to our online security. There is good news, though—that also means there are always new ways to stay secure online, and they don’t take much effort. In the first part of our online security series, we have five simple things you can do to protect yourself and your data.
#1: Install an Antivirus…and Update It
It might be called “antivirus,” but it protects against all kinds of malicious software you don’t want. There’s something called ransomware, which encrypts your files and then demands payment to restore them. There’s something called a trojan horse program, that seems completely valid, but behind the scenes it steals your private information.
The best part of installing an antivirus software is that it’s a set-it-and-forget-it kind of security measure. You can even enable auto updates, making it about as low maintenance as possible. You should certainly take a look at it periodically, but most of them do a great job of letting you know how things are at a glance. They might display a green banner or something to let you know everything is A-OK. If you see a yellow or red banner, the software will give you detailed instructions to get things working properly again.
Keep in mind that, while low maintenance, both bimple antiviruses and full security suites require annual renewal! For one less thing to think about, just set your software up for automatic renewal.
#2: Explore the Security Tools You Install
Sure, we just said antivirus software is super low maintenance—but there are a lot of security tools out there that are only as valuable as you make them. You should know how to use them! For example, your smartphone probably has an option for finding it when it’s lost—but do you have it enabled? Have you tested it out to make sure it works, and that you know how to use it?
As another example, most antivirus software has the ability to fend off Potentially Unwanted Applications (PUAs), which are troublesome apps that aren’t exactly malware, but they aren’t benefiting you in any way either. You can check the detection settings in your security software and block the not harmful, but definitely annoying stuff.
#3: Use Unique Passwords for EVERYTHING
This is a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people still don’t do this—even though it’s one of the security measures you should take the most seriously. We get it, you don’t want to forget one of the—probably at this point—hundreds of passwords you have for various things you need access to.
But we feel obligated to tell you—getting a batch of usernames and password combinations from one source and trying the same combos elsewhere is one of the easiest ways hackers steal information. While you might be panicking at the thought of remembering a hundred unique and hard-to-guess passwords, there’s no need to fear! Humans don’t have to do that anymore. Enter the password manager. Several good ones are completely free, and take very little time to get set up. They’re designed to do exactly what it sounds like they do—they store all of your passwords digitally.
You remember one master password (that we actually recommend keeping on a real piece of paper somewhere very safe) and your password manager does the rest. By logging into your online accounts automatically, it keeps you and your information safer. We have a whole blog post dedicated to password managers here.
#4: Get a VPN and Use It
If you ever connect to the Internet using a Wi-Fi network you aren’t familiar with, you should be using a virtual private network, or VPN—and we’re pretty sure everyone connects to networks they don’t know. Say you go to your favorite coffee shop to get some work done, and you connect to their free Wi-Fi. The reality is, even if you’ve been there a hundred times, you don’t know much about the security of that connection. Someone else on the network could start looking through—or even stealing—the files and data on your laptop or smartphone.
A VPN encrypts your Internet traffic, and routes it through a server owned by the VPN company. That means even the owner of the Wi-Fi network can’t look through any of your files. It also hides your IP address, so advertisers and trackers see the VPN company’s address instead of where you are.
#5: Multi-factor Authentication
We’re a big proponent of this one, because it requires very little effort but adds a lot more security. Essentially, it adds another layer of security on top of your username and password (remember—make it unique!) combination. You might not notice, but you actually use multi-factor, or two-factor authentication all the time. Everytime you scan a fingerprint, enter your PIN number when buying something, or get a texted code in your inbox, you’re using it.
See, when you’re just using a username and password, anyone who guesses or steals that password owns your account. Adding just one more layer of security, however, makes it at least twice as hard to steal your information. The most secure kinds of multi-factor authentication involve something digital, like a password, and something physical, like you phone or fingerprint. We have a full blog post on multi-factor authentication here.
For more security tips and tricks, visit our website!