Ok, so maybe “unhackable” is a bit strong. It’s impossible to ever truly be bulletproof online. But don’t let that stop you from protecting yourself; there many easy ways to keep your online accounts, Wi-Fi network, PC, and mobile devices secure – and that’s exactly what you should do. Here are a few key things we should all have off our checklists in order to keep the bad guys (or bad software) from sneaking into our machines and wreaking havoc on our lives.
Usernames and passwords
When crafting a username for online bank accounts or other sensitive services, don’t use the most obvious choices. That means, don’t use your name, any version of your name, your dog’s name, or any version of a family member’s name – all that information is likely readily available on the Web. And don’t use any username that you’ve employed for other accounts. Instead, use something that you’ve never used anywhere else online.
Passwords may be an antiquated way to protect our online accounts. But right now, they are the only option for most online accounts and gadgets. To craft a good password (which most people don’t do) it must be complex – lower-case and capital letters, numbers, and symbols are a must. I would suggest creating an acronym for your favorite phrase, then throwing symbols and your zip code or part of your childhood phone number at the end.
For example, turn the phrase “We mean no harm to your planet” into “WMnHtYP.” Then add in a symbol or two: WMnHtYP*$. And finally, your selected number, to give you the full password: WMnHtYP*$5172. Now, do that for each of your online accounts, including apps and iTunes or other online market places.
Of course, that’s a lot to remember, and writing down passwords can be just as dangerous if there’s a chance your password document falls into the wrong hands. Another option is to use a password manager app, like LastPass or 1Password, which does much of the hard work for you.
Update: Digital Trends’ PC reviewing mastermind Matt Smith adds that turning on two-step authentication whenever possible is a must for protecting your accounts. Gmail, for example, has this; see here for how to turn it on.
If you connect to the Internet over Wi-Fi, you need to make sure you have a secure connection. The first step is to password protect your router. (Each router is different; so if you don’t know how to do this, look up the instructions for doing so online.) And as mentioned above, make sure it’s a good password – the more complicated the better.
The next step is to turn off “broadcasting” of your network. This will make it so your Wi-Fi router doesn’t show up in other people’s lists of available connections. Most routers have this feature, which can be accessed through the router’s management software. (You can probably download this, if you don’t have it installed.) From there, you want to turn off the option that says “Enable SSID Broadcast” (or something like that). And you’re done!
Finally, you can stay extra secure by downloading network monitoring software like Fing, which allows you to check if anyone is on your Wi-Fi connection who’s not supposed to be.
We’ve all heard of antivirus software by now, so we don’t need to get into the nitty gritty of that. But you do need to install one, if you haven’t already. And then you need to keep it running. Malwarebytes is one of the best options out there, with both a free and paid version available. (Though, at $25, I’d recommend going for the Pro version.) Another good option is Bitdefender Total Security 2013, which will cost you about $52 right now, but has a slew of features that protect everything from your home PC to your social media accounts to your online bank accounts and more.
Note to Mac users: Cybersecurity experts predict that Macs will be increasingly targeted by hackers and malware in 2013, so don’t think you’re safe just because you have an Apple-made machine. You need antivirus software, too.
Smartphone or tablet
While not as vulnerable as a Windows PC, smartphones and tablets are still susceptible to viruses. Luckily for us, there are an increasing number of antivirus products out there for our mobile devices. For Android, check out either Avast! Mobile Security, or Lookout Security & Anti-virus. For iOS, your options are more limited, but VirusBarrier is a good, inexpensive option.
While software is a must-have, there’s a lot you can do to protect yourself just by creating good habits. Here are a few tips:
- Never use the same password across multiple accounts. It’s hard to do, but failing to do this makes it possible for a hacker to gain access to a multitude of your accounts, and ruin your life more easily.
- Don’t fill out online questionnaires or quizzes that ask for information like your date of birth, hometown, mother’s maiden name, or other data that is often used for security questions.
- When filling out a security question (in case of a lost password, for example), don’t give an easy answer. For instance, if the question is “What is the name of your first pet?” Don’t just write “Rover.” Write “Rover451” or some other variant.
- Don’t click ads on porn sites – they are one of the primary ways malware is spread.
Correction: An earlier version of this article recommended turning on broadcasting of your Wi-Fi network; it should be turn off broadcasting. The error has been fixed.