Mar 5, 2016 - New Technology, Internet

With so much of the world’s information at our fingertips, it is increasingly easy to forget about the potential risks and dangers that our online activity can pose. Hackers appear to be everywhere these days. From the high-profile security breaches with Ashley Madison, J.P. Morgan; from celebrities, to our own government. Many have been the victims of sophisticated and vicious cyber-attacks. Most people don’t realize how easy it is for their email addresses to be captured, their passwords deconstructed, or worse yet, their identity to be stolen. Luckily, there are several steps you can take to minimize the possibility of these things happening.

Download and update a powerful Anti-Virus. This is perhaps the one activity that is the simplest to undertake, but has the most potential upside in terms of risk-reduction. There are dozens of options out there. These have been in the marketplace long-enough that people have reviewed them and ranked them accordingly. Doing a bit of research can go a long way in this regard. Most are relatively inexpensive and easy to install so this shouldn’t be as big of a time-sink as many people fear. Also, don’t forget to update it periodically (or simply set up automatic updates). Malicious software is always evolving to overcome the latest security advances, therefore security software has to keep up and continually evolve as well. If you don’t update your security systems, then their protection can become obsolete over time. 

Create smart and strong passwords. Using your last name and a random digit is a pretty bad example of a password. Hackers can easily find your name through your social media profiles or other publicly-available information sources. A good password is six characters or more, has upper and lower-case letters, and includes numbers and symbols. For example: $4GreY201. 

Be smart about email. In today’s day and age, everyone relies on email for fast communication with friends, family, and business contacts. It’s truly an invaluable tool. This is also where it’s risk stems from. Even if you have good security measures, your contacts may not. You need to be careful what information you send over email. Credit card information, passwords, Social-Security numbers, are all examples of things to NEVER send over email. A little common sense here can really go a long way. 

Beware of Phishing. Phishing is the all-too common practice of attempting to defraud a person by soliciting personal information under the guise of a legitimate company. These can come in the form of email or websites you click-through to. Say you receive an email that you deem somewhat suspicious, and said email is inviting you to click on a link to claim some prize you’ve just been awarded. Instead of clicking on the link directly, open a new tab and evaluate the legitimacy of the sender. Often you will find that people have already denounced it as a scam.

Online gaming. Many internet users, especially in the younger demographic, enjoy online multiplayer games. These can be incredibly fun, but again, it pays to be careful. Many of these games allow players to interact with each other via messaging or some similar mechanism. Employ the same logic as securing your email: avoid providing any personal information. 

This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of precautions, but rather, a series of recommendations that can help you decrease the risks of being online. Doing your own research on online safety with regards to your own personal online activities is the best way to find solutions that work best for you. In the same way that you should update your antivirus or other security software, so to must you reevaluate your own habits to try and identify vulnerabilities before someone else exploits them.