The internet is no longer a safe space. While there are plenty of safe ways to use the internet, it’s becoming increasingly important for individuals and businesses to set up safeguards and protect themselves from targeted hacks and other attacks.
5 Ways to Avoid Getting Hacked
In 2015, one of the most recent years for which accurate data is available, the ITRC Data Breach Report found that there were more than 177.8 million personal records exposed as the result of 780 individual breaches of financial institutions, health or medical organizations, educational institutions, businesses, military groups, and government agencies. These hacks occurred in all 50 states and don’t account for individual hacks, where millions of additional records compromised.
If you listen to reports like these and read the headlines coming from every direction, it may seem like getting hacked is inevitable. After all, thousands of businesses and millions of individuals are compromised every single year. But that’s not true. By following some simple rules and using discretion, you can greatly reduce your risk.
Let’s take a look at some specific tips and tricks:
1. Use a VPN
When you’re using a password-protected network that nobody outside of your home can access, you’re fairly well protected. Things start to get a little iffier when you find yourself accessing a public network at a coffee shop, airport, or similar location.
On a public network, you face a much higher risk of being compromised. Hackers have dozens of ways to get inside your computer or device and access what’s inside. While public networks are convenient, they’re far from secure. The best solution is to use a virtual private network, also known as a VPN, anytime you connect to a public network.
“Privacy is increased with a VPN because the user’s initial IP address is replaced with one from the VPN provider,” computer scientist Brian Gilbert explains. “This method allows subscribers to attain an IP address from any gateway city the VPN service provides. For instance, you may live in San Francisco, but with a VPN, you can appear to live in Amsterdam, New York, or any number of gateway cities.
2. Encrypt Shared Files
Another problem area for the average internet user involves the sharing of files. Any time you send or receive files, there’s always a chance that you could be putting yourself in a vulnerable position.
“Today, the best and easiest way to protect your digital communications is to encrypt them,” explains Phillip Vera of XMedius. “Encrypted messaging basically consists of scrambling the data with complex mathematical algorithms that only the intended recipient can decrypt, instead of sending plain text anyone can read.”
There are a number of solutions that allow for encrypted file sharing – including the aforementioned XMedius – and there’s really no excuse not to use one of these services. (This is especially true for businesses that have a lot to lose.)
3. Use Two-Factor Authentication
A lot of hackers don’t actually use sneaky backdoor methods to hack into devices and accounts. Often times, the preferred method is to crack the password. And if you have very basic passwords on your accounts, it’s really not that hard for a savvy cyber criminal to figure out your code.
In addition to creating more complex passwords with random strings of characters, it’s smart to start using two-factor authentication. As the name suggests, two-factor authentication requires two different inputs in order for an account to be accessed. In most cases, it requires something you know (a password) and something you own (like a mobile device). Upon entering the password, you then have to retrieve a pin code that’s sent to your mobile device in order to complete the login.
4. Never Link Accounts
While it’s easy to link up different accounts, avoid doing this. The more accounts you link, the more you expose yourself to hackers. For example, let’s say your Facebook profile, Twitter profile, Netflix account, and credit cards are all linked together. If someone hacks into your Facebook account, they have access to financial information.
While it can get annoying to continuously enter passwords every single time you need to access an account, it’s much better to deal with this minor nuisance than to have all of your personal information exposed in a single hack.
5. Choose Strategic Security Questions
The final suggestion is to carefully choose strategic security questions for your important accounts. The last thing you want is for a hacker to find your user ID and then click the “forgot password” option when logging in. If your security questions are easy, they’ll have no problem getting into your account and resetting the password.
The mistake a lot of people make is choosing obvious questions and answers. For example, they’ll choose a question such as, “What’s your pet’s name?” All a hacker has to do is find your Instagram profile with 100 pictures of you and little Fido and they have the answer. Be more strategic and think of tougher questions.
Be a Smarter Internet User
Accessing the internet is easy. After a while, you become so comfortable with it that you don’t even think about the risks that you’re being exposed to on a daily basis. But if you want to avoid getting hacked or tracked, you have to start paying attention to the threats that are imminent. It’s the only way to mitigate risk and rest easy at night.