How to significantly improve your online safety : Internet Scambusters #970
Online safety from scammers and hackers should be uppermost in every Internet user's mind.
But making the time to take all the required, detailed actions often means they simply don’t get done.
We have a solution that could change all that, as we explain in this week's issue.
Let's get started…
Five Days That Will Revolutionize Your Online Safety
Are you full of good intentions about your computer and online safety but never quite get around to doing all those things you know you should do, like changing passwords and security settings?
Maybe you need to schedule these activities in your diary/calendar, just like all your other important engagements.
One way to do this is to set aside a day for each of the key actions you need to perform. You don't necessarily need to spend the whole day but, if it's on your calendar, it should be a priority you deal with first.
You can spread these days across a whole year if you like, but at least you'll have the comfort of knowing you've taken great strides toward being as safe online as you can be when you're done.
It almost goes without saying (but we'll say it anyway) that your starting point for online safety should be to have good security software installed on all your devices -- and keep it updated. You should also have a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app that provides security when you use a public or unsecured network.
Then, in no particular order, here are 5 suggestions for online safety routines to avoid scams and prevent hacking.
Day One: Update All Your Passwords
Yes, we know this is a pain, but it's even worse when you're notified about the need to change your codes while you're trying to do something much more urgent or when you use the same compromised password on multiple sites.
Instead, why not have a Password Change Day when you do them all?
You can make the task easier by using a password manager that will not only create new, difficult to guess codes but also synchronize across all your devices (including mobiles). Read our latest guidance on this type of software here: Your Choices When a Free Password Manager Starts Charging.
If available, it's always a good idea to set up two-factor authentication that requires you to add a second password or code. Learn more about this here: How to Easily Enhance Your Password Security.
Day Two: Update All Your Software, Hardware, and Backup Arrangements
Every app or program you use on your computer, tablet, or smartphone is potentially vulnerable to hacking. This applies especially to your Internet browser.
Developers are always updating their software to take account of the latest security threats, and so should you.
First, though, uninstall programs you no longer use. If you don't know how to do this, search for "How to uninstall apps on…", followed by the type of device. You could also use an uninstaller program that ensures all traces of an app are removed; some are paid for, some free.
Now launch each of your remaining apps and programs and look for a settings entry that says something like "check for updates."
Many apps, especially on mobile devices, automatically update. If yours doesn't, again look for and select a setting that allows this.
While doing this, also review your process for backing up your data, the best way to avoid the pain of ransomware -- you do back up don't you? Arrange for at least one copy of your backup to be stored away from your home.
Also, make sure your operating system (Windows or MacOS) and your computer and router firmware are current. If you don’t know how to do this, use your first Day Two to learn how -- from manuals or online searches.
Finally, use part of this day to check privacy, trust, and security settings on your email program and to decide the level of "cookies" (activity trackers) you will allow to be stored on your device.
Day Three: Review Account Security and Payment Card Alerts
Visit all the sites you use that store confidential financial and sign-on information. Check that this info is up to date and check if the site can automatically notify you when it is accessed -- though many don’t have a setting that does this.
However, most if not all credit card sites have a setting that enables you to receive a daily notification of your balance, allowing an early warning system if someone is using your card.
Make a note of the phone number on the back of each card that can be used if you find or suspect your account has been accessed. Monitor your online card and bank accounts daily.
At the same time, check your credit score and report (see Can You Really Get a Free Credit Report -- Without Getting Scammed?). And make sure you know what to do if you spot errors or anything that suggests someone has applied for credit in your name (see What To Know About Credit Freezes and Fraud Alerts).
Day Four: Get to Know Your Smartphone
Smartphones and tablets are now the preferred way of accessing the Internet for many users. But mobile devices operate differently from PCs, especially in the way they track user activities and locations.
The latest versions of Apple's iOS and iPadOS have imposed much tougher privacy controls on websites but managing them still rests in the hands of the user.
Android users are not so fortunate, but it's still perfectly feasible to review tracking settings on each app. Both Apple and Android phones and tablets also have their own general security settings. Go through each option and set the safest ones for your needs.
Both systems also have apps that allow you to locate your device if it's missing or stolen and to render it unusable and/or to delete all data after a number of unsuccessful attempts to sign on. As they say, use it or lose it!
Day Five: Review and Change Your Social Media Settings and Online Identity
You should always be wary about personal information and photos that you post online. Your public data (even posts you simply "like") helps both legitimate and scam organizations to harvest details and compile a "picture" of you, which they use or sell to others.
All the main social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have ways of restricting who can see your posts and even what the site operators can do with your data. Track these privacy settings down (they're not always easy to find) and edit them to the toughest level you can live with.
You can go much further than this and remove most online data about yourself. You can even have Google remove or hide all references to you. This can be a big undertaking. Start here: 6 Ways to Delete Yourself From the Internet.
There are also programs (mostly paid for) that claim to do most of the work for you.
Keep Yourself Up to Date!
In addition, of course, it's important to keep yourself well-informed about the world of scams and hacks so you're ready for the next attempt. And there will be one.
The best way is to sign up for a few Internet security emails: Scambusters, of course, plus the US Federal Trade Commission, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, and a few non-profit consumer organizations (sites that usually end in ".org").
Don't choose too many or you won't read them! You could set up an "Internet Security" list on Twitter and glance at this each day.
Our tips are not an exhaustive guide. If you think of more, add them to one of the above days or set aside another catch-all day. The most important thing is to always keep online safety front of mind. Vigilance is your watchword!
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!