First, the bad news – data breaches are on the rise. The number of cyber attacks doubled in the first half of 2017 compared to 2016 and in fact, they were up by 223 percent. While some of this increase is attributed to security companies noticing more breaches than they did before, this massive bump also suggests that the volume of attacks has risen as well.
Now, the good news – there are many simple ways you can protect yourself online. It starts with avoiding some of these common online habits that you may not realize leave you vulnerable to cyber attacks.
- Opening Emails From Senders You Don’t Know
If you’re like most people, your email inbox is likely filled with messages from people you don’t know. Research from the Radicati Group found that an estimated 269 billion emails are sent each day, and nearly half of those emails are spam. In an effort to quickly clean up your inbox, you’ve probably opened emails from senders you don’t recognize, and this simple action could cause you a world of problems. Scammers and cyber attackers regularly send emails that contain links and attachments that, once clicked, install malware on your computer that allows them to steal your information. The simple solution? Never open an email from an unknown sender.
Sometimes, the emails will look they they are coming from a legitimate source, such as a store you’ve shopped at or your bank, but if you look closely you’ll notice there’s something slightly off about the sender’s address. For example, an email from “BankofAmerica” may have a zero in place of the “o” or could be missing a letter, which is a surefire sign that it is from a fake account. A quick online search for the email address should let you know if it is something you can trust.
- Connecting to Public Wi-Fi
Public wi-fi is everywhere these days, from coffee shops to public parks. While it’s great to have the option to get out of the office and work somewhere new, you should be extremely cautious while using public wi-fi. While it’s fine to do some light browsing in public spaces, you should never login to sensitive accounts, such as your social media or bank accounts, while using unsecure wi-fi. While you’re at it, always make sure you keep a close eye on all your devices in public, even if you’re only getting up to grab a napkin.
- Using the Same Password Across Multiple Platforms
Remembering multiple passwords is hard, especially these days when more websites than ever are requiring them. This is probably why 39 percent of Americans surveyed by the Pew Research Center reported that they use the same or very similar passwords across multiple online accounts. This system leaves you extremely vulnerable to cyber attackers who simply need to gain access to one of your passwords to gain control of your entire life online. Don’t want to go through the hassle of remembering multiple passwords? The good news is you don’t have to. Use a secure platform for password management that can store and enter all of your passwords for you, so you never have to remember another password again or use the same one twice.
- Not Updating Your Computer
When your computer tells you it’s time for an update, what do you do? Do you click on the button that says “ignore” or say you’ll make time for an update later but you never do? If so, you could be leaving your computer vulnerable to hackers. These updates are not designed to be annoyances, they are key to protecting your software and they seek out any security flaws that need to be repaired. Make a commitment to accepting these updates within a day you are notified of them to ensure that you don’t forget them.
- Ignoring the Cyber Security of Your Phone
Your phone is just as vulnerable to cyber attacks as your computer, which is why it’s important to regularly download your phone’s software updates when prompted. Remember, your phone is basically just a small computer, and it should be treated the same way as all of your other devices.
Speaking of phone security, it’s also very important to have the lock screen enabled on your phone to ensure no one can access it if you lose it or leave it unattended. Believe it or not, 28 percent of Americans do not use the lock screen on their cellphones. This is a simple way to help keep the personal data on your phone safe, and it is well worth the extra few seconds it takes to unlock your phone.
- Sharing Too Much on Social Media
We post so often to social media it can be easy to post sensitive, personal information without even thinking twice. To start, set your social media accounts to “private” so that only the people you select can view them. Also, be more cautious about the information you post, especially if any of it could be used to figure out your passwords.
For example, if your passwords somehow involve the names of your children or the names of your pets, and you regularly post about them on your social accounts, it would be very simple for someone to figure out your passwords. This is another reason why it’s important to not choose obvious personal details about your life to use as passwords.
So are you guilty of any of these common habits? If so, it’s time to pay closer attention to your online behavior and how it may be leaving you vulnerable to a data breach. Making a few small changes could be the difference between keeping your data secure and calling your bank to dispute fraudulent charges on your credit card.