Jacki Williams | January 17, 2014

Common Online Security Mistakes – And How to Avoid Them

Lately, it seems like a new security breach happens every day. At the end of 2013, 70 to 110 million credit card numbers were stolen from Target. Customer information was hacked from Neiman Marcus databases. And Snapchat leaked as many as 4.6 million phone numbers and usernames.

Cyber criminals are getting smarter all the time. And that means that we need to be even more careful with our personal information – whether we’re in a store, on an app or at our home computers.

The good news is, you can keep your information safe with a few simple precautions. Check out these four common online security mistakes, and learn how you can avoid them to stay safe online.

Not securing your Wi-Fi

It may be tempting to leave your Wi-Fi unsecured. You don’t have to remember any passwords, and you don’t have to waste time logging in every time you want to get online. But an unsecured network can leave you (and your information) vulnerable to hackers, cyber criminals and, at the very least, sneaky neighbors who might hop on your connection and slow down your speeds.

An easy fix? Securing your Wi-Fi network. Create a password, and only give it to family members and trusted guests. Make your password something that you can easily remember, but that others won’t be able to figure out. Use a combination of lower-case and capitals, alternate numbers and letters, and avoid simple passwords like your name or birthdate. It’s also a good idea to use a different password than you use for your email or other accounts.

Still concerned about having to type in a password every time you want to log on? Don’t worry – you can set your family’s devices to automatically connect to your network while still keeping it password-protected to everyone else.

Assuming your antivirus protection is always on

Antivirus software is great because it’s low maintenance. You download it once and forget it – you can trust it to pick up viruses and malware without a lot of effort on your part. But you’re not totally off the hook. Although your antivirus software should be on all the time, that’s not always the case – especially if your computer has contracted a virus designed to disable it.

You should run frequent scans on your computer to search for any viruses, malware and spyware that may have snuck by. You should also update your antivirus software and programs frequently. Download all the critical updates suggested by your operating system, and check for updates from your antivirus firm at least twice a year.

Clicking on malicious links

One of the easiest ways to leave your computer vulnerable to viruses, malware and hackers? Clicking on malicious links in emails or social media messages. The email or message may look completely legitimate – it may appear to be from your bank, your employer or a site you have an account with. But clicking on malicious links and entering personal information gives hackers and cyber criminals access to important information.

How can you avoid malicious links? It’s simple – only click on links that you know are real. If you’re not sure, carefully check the email address and content of the message. If the email address seems suspicious, if the message has bad grammar or poor spelling, and it’s asking for personal information, it’s probably not legitimate. If you think it’s something important, you can always try going directly to the website from your browser and logging in from there.

Shopping or banking unsafely

It’s incredibly easy to shop and bank online. You can access your favorite stores and your finances from any device – including phones and tablets – anywhere you go. But there is a downside. Shopping and banking on-the-go can put important information at risk.

That’s because when you’re on the go, you’re not usually connected to a secure Wi-Fi network. And that means that all the information you need to shop and bank online – including bank account numbers, credit card numbers and even your address – are at risk of being stolen. Since anyone can get on a public network, anyone could see your information.

To prevent your information from being stolen, shop safely. Shop or bank from home on a secure Wi-Fi connection, and avoid doing it in public places or on mobile devices. And make sure the sites you use are secure – always check for “https” and a padlock icon before the URL. And if you’re still concerned, most banks will give you temporary virtual account numbers that you can use when online shopping – that prevents hackers or websites from gaining access to your real account information.

Follow these tips, and it will be much harder for cyber criminals to access your information – and you and your family can feel safer online.

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