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What the Hack? Things You Can Do Every Day to Stop Cyber Criminals in their Tracks

September 2021 by Jeff Birner, Cyber and IT expert

If you haven’t yet had your online accounts hacked, count yourself lucky. Cybercrime is real; cyber criminals are real; and they’re proving to all of us that nothing is safe. Do you know how the companies you do business with are protecting your information? Or do you cross your fingers or pray that everything will be fine?

It’s time to take matters into your own hands, suggests cybersecurity and IT expert Jeff Birner. “You are your own biggest weakness, but changing just a few of your behaviors can reduce the chances that your online accounts get breached,” he said.

Here are some of Birner’s tips for protecting yourself from cyber-attacks:

Use Multi-Factor Authentication

Arguably the most effective thing you can do to protect your online accounts is turning on multi-factor, or two-factor, authentication for as many of your accounts as possible. The method uses a secondary piece of information—often a code generated by an app or sent via SMS—alongside a password.

This secondary piece of information helps to prove it really is you trying to log in, as the codes are often accessed on the phone in your pocket. Even if you do have a password that’s easy to guess (we’ll get to that shortly), an attacker is unlikely to get access to an account with multi-factor authentication turned on unless they have your phone.

Get a Password Manager

It’s 2021. You shouldn’t be using “password” or “12345” for any of your passwords—even if it’s a throwaway account.

All the passwords you use for your online accounts should be strong and unique. They should be long, include a mixture of different character types and not be used across multiple websites. Your Twitter password shouldn’t be the same as your online banking one; your home Wi-Fi network shouldn’t use the same credentials as your Amazon account.

Password managers create strong passwords for you and store them securely. Plus, you never have to struggle to remember a forgotten password again.

Learn How to Spot a Phishing Attack

Quickly clicking can be your worst enemy. When a new email or text message arrives, and it includes something that can be tapped or clicked, our instinct is to click. Don’t. Hackers have used the pandemic as a cover to launch wave after wave of phishing attacks and dumb Google Drive scams. Be cautious, think before you click, and download files only from people and sources you know and trust.

Update Everything

Every piece of technology you use—from the Facebook app on your phone to the operating system that controls your smart lightbulb—is open to attack. Thankfully, companies are always finding new bugs and fixing them. That’s why it’s crucial you download and update the latest versions of the apps and software you’re using.

Encrypt Everything

Protecting your communications has never been easier. Over the last half-decade, companies handling our personal data—including the messages we send and the files we upload to the cloud—have realized that encryption can help them as well as their customers. Using encrypted services means that what you’re sending is better protected against surveillance and won’t be accessible if your device gets lost or stolen.

Wipe Your Digital Footprint

The past can come back to haunt you. The old online accounts you no longer use and the login details that belong to them can be weaponized against you if you don’t do anything about them. Hackers frequently use details from previous data breaches to access the accounts people currently use. Reducing the amount of information that’s available about your online life can help cut your risk of being hacked. A very simple step is to regularly delete your Google search history.

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