Simple Tips for Protecting Yourself Online

Businessman working on laptop with some documents on table

There are countless ways to hack a person and several ways to protect yourself online | iStock.com/jacoblund

Online privacy is a complex and sometimes confusing thing. Many of us still believe that we are quite safe online. Some people use public Wi-Fi to make money transfers or check their bank accounts, others tell jokes about their bosses through work email. Even the laws that are designed to secure our online privacy do not offer full protection. The question arises whether we are really protected online or not. That’s why it is important to see how your privacy can be violated and by whom.

Mobile app developers and marketers violate users’ privacy to be able to advertise products to them. There’s also the threat of hackers and numerous online scams. There are countless ways to hack a person and, fortunately, there are several ways to protect yourself online, too. By educating yourself with the right information, you will most likely be able to avoid online scams.

1. Keep your personal information private

man holding social security card in his hand

Don’t share your private information online | iStock.com/KenTannenbaum

Do not respond to requests for your private details online or over the phone if it’s not a verified source. Your bank, utility, and credit card companies might need personal information, but be wary of sharing too much. One of the most common internet scams comes in the form of a guaranteed bank loan or credit card offer. When a website or email asks you for your social security number as an identifier, see whether you can provide alternative information to confirm your identity and verify the website you’re on in the meantime with a simple Google search.

2. Download antivirus software

conceptual keyboard with redy key displaying 'Antivirus'

One antivirus tool per computer is more than enough | iStock.com/ArtemSam

Installing antivirus software will help protect you from malware. Remember that not all antivirus software is created equal. Do your research before you purchase any new product. It is also important not to run more than one antivirus tool on your computer at one time. If you cannot purchase a license for a quality antivirus tool, you can get a free trial or try a free program. There are a lot of free antivirus tools you can use such as AVG, AVAST, AVIRA and more.

3. Update your devices frequently

woman typing on laptop computer and media app icons flying

Devices like being updated | iStock.com/KeremYucel

Regardless of what device you are using at the moment, it probably needs frequent updating. Don’t ignore those seemingly pesky software updates. As soon as they are ready to install, install them. Updates are very important for maintaining the security of your devices.

4. Do not use the same password twice

Woman holding smartphone with login screen

Be creative. Use different passwords | iStock.com/RossiAgung

Passwords are a delicate matter. It might be really tempting to use the same password when creating different accounts, but this is extremely risky. If a hacker finds out your login details, they would be able to access your personal data from a variety of sources.

5. Get a password manager

My password 123456 written on a paper with marker

123456 is not the best password for you | iStock.com/designer491

One way to avoid identity theft is to use a password manager to generate and store passwords. With a password manager, it will be easy to have different passwords for different accounts. If one account or service is hacked, the others will not be vulnerable.

6. Run away from fake online contests

A young woman is overjoyed by 'You Won' message on her tablet computer

Anything could go wrong, especially if you are not scam savvy | iStock.com/chairboy

You might come across some online contests that say you have won something, but before sending you the gift or the prize, they need some personal information. Take your time to see how valid the contest or the offer is. If it seems too good to be true, ask the organizers for contact information and see if they represent a legitimate company.

7. The work-at-home scam

Woman analyzing some very important data on tablet

Make sure a legitimate company is behind that work-at-home offer | iStock.com/gpointstudio

With the rising popularity of freelance positions, the work-at-home offer seems quite the sweet deal. However, not all offers are are they seem. If you are in doubt, research the company that’s offering the position. Look for the company’s website, phone numbers, and email addresses. See who you can contact directly to get more details on the position. A thorough background check of the company will help you understand whether it’s a work-at-home scam or not.

8. Monitor your finances

businesswoman shopping online at desk in the office

Maybe you should opt for a paid service to monitor all your transactions | iStock.com/Wavebreakmedia

Sign up for notifications to be sent to your smartphone or email every time you make a transaction with your credit or debit card. This way, you can keep an eye out for unauthorized activity. You can also sign up for paid credit monitoring services to help protect yourself further against identity theft.

9. Set a Google alert for your name

screen shot of Google Chrome application showing on Asus Zenfone 2 mobile phone

Is someone pretending to be you? | iStock.com/kasinv

This is a really easy and simple way to watch out for anything related to your name. By setting up a Google alert, you will have the chance to see what’s being posted online that’s connected to your name. You can set up a Google alert for your name or for anything else in a few minutes. You can even set up different preferences like what kind of websites to search, when to search, and what email address to use to send you those notifications.

10. Stay private on social media

Apple Iphone 6 screen with social media applications

Do reveal too much about yourself on social media | iStock.com/HStocks

Keep your social media activity private. Check your Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter account settings to make sure only your friends can see what you share. Of course, you can change the privacy setting of individual posts if you want people other than your friends to see your stuff as well. Be aware of how much you share publicly though. It is not uncommon for people to steal photos and create parody accounts.

11. Be creative when it comes to security questions

Question Mark Combination Lock on wooden background

Answer security questions with humor | iStock.com/USGirl

Security questions are not as safe as they might seem. Common questions include your pet’s name, the city you were born in, or your mother’s maiden name and often the answers to these questions are easily found by looking at any of your social media profiles. To avoid being hacked, just get a little creative. And, of course, make sure you come up with answers you can remember later on or else you won’t be able to restore your account if it’s hacked.

12. Keep your work and personal data separate

Words Data protection on button of computer keyboard

Keep your work life and personal life separate | iStock.com/tashka2000

If you have an email account at your workplace, then make sure you use it for work only. Get another email account if you want to discuss personal issues with your family or friends. Try not to use personal devices to work either. Some companies require your device be wiped completely clean after your employment is terminated to help protect its security.

13. Protect your hardware

Technician plug in CPU microprocessor to motherboard socket

Protecting hardware is as important as doing it with software | iStock.com/golubovy

It’s equally important to protect both hardware and software. In order to protect your computer, make sure you set up a password. Every time someone wants to use your PC, they will need to enter the password to get access. Of course, you can trust your friends and family members, but what if someone steals your laptop?

14. Disable location tracking

woman using navigation or gps on mobile smartphone

Do you really need to let everyone know where you are? | iStock.com/oatawa

Disable location tracking and Wi-Fi on your mobile phone or tablet until you need them. GPS let’s your mobile phone provider and the app developers see your exact location, which is usually used to market products to you. This also helps save battery life.

15. Keep an eye on your wireless connection

Wi-Fi wireless router

Wi-Fi wireless router | iStock.com/Grassetto

It is important to protect the way you access the internet. Don’t share your Wi-Fi password with anyone except for family and friends. If you’re using public Wi-Fi, pay attention to what kind of information you are sending out and receiving since it might not be a secure connection.

16. Turn on private browsing

man syncing files and documents on personal wireless electronic devices

Syncing files between a phone and tablet | iStock.com/stevanovicigor

Private browsing is available on nearly every web browser and deletes cookies, browsing history, and temporary internet files every time you close the window. Private browsing also helps prevent websites from collecting your personal information. If you want an added layer of security, you can use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to help create a more secure connection.

17. Opt for two-step authentication

Woman using Privacy Settings on laptop

Two-step verification creates an extra layer of security | iStock.com/Daviles

Once you have successfully created different passwords for your different accounts, you need to strengthen your account security. One way to do this is by using two-step authentication. This is a login system that needs your password and another piece of information before you can actually get into your account. The second part is usually a code that is generated and sent to you through either your mobile phone or an email. Some services might require the code every time you try to log in, others may require it when you are using a new device or web browser.

18. Opt for encryption

Businesswoman pressing unlocking on virtual screens

Encrypt your personal information | iStock.com/oatawa

Different online services such as WhatsApp and Facebook use encryption. Emails are not so easy to encrypt. You should use email encryption services to do so, and the person you are communicating with should get the encryption code/password to be able to communicate with you online. Opting for encryption will help you avoid spammers, scammers, and hack attacks of all kinds.

19. Don’t post personal information

"Confidential" printed on brown vintage envelope

“Confidential” printed on brown vintage envelope | iStock.com/ieang

Ask yourself whether you really need to display your full date of birth everywhere. And what about posting your phone number online? This information can make it really easy for scammers to steal your accounts. The more information you reveal, the more information hackers can collect to try and steal your identity.

20. Ignore pop-up windows

Shocked and surprised boy on the internet with laptop computer

Surprised boy on a laptop computer | iStock.com/BrianAJackson

Pop-up windows are more than just annoying. They can contain malicious software which can trick you to verify something and start a download in the background — you might not even see it happening. That is why it’s a good idea to ignore all pop-ups that offer to play a game, answer a message, or perform some other activity. Try using a pop-up blocker and only disabling it when you need to.

21. Double check URLs

Young man with glasses working on his notebook

Young man with glasses working on his notebook | iStock.com/NakoPhotography

An easy way for hackers to harvest personal data from you is using fake web pages similar to other pages. That is why it’s vital to check the website and make sure it’s real and safe. Websites that are secure will start with “https” at the beginning of the URL.

22. Avoid clicking on links from unknown senders

Laptop keyboard with lock and chain

Laptop keyboard with lock and chain | iStock.com/Bet_Noire

It’s a good idea to think twice before you click on a link in an email. If you do not know the sender, then don’t click on the link sent by them. Cyber scammers often create emails that seem like they are from a bank, credit union, or from a popular website that holds sensitive financial data. Call and verify the validity of the email before opening anything.

23. Wipe your data to protect your devices

male finger pointing delete key on a metallic keyboard

Erase all of your data before you upgrade | iStock.com/daoleduc

Before you upgrade to a new mobile device, tablet, or computer, make sure you wipe out all personal data from the old one. If you do not log out of your social media accounts or email account, they’re susceptible to hacking, especially if you’re getting rid of the old device. Not deleting your personal data such as photos, videos, and contact list can be dangerous as well.

24. Be careful when installing apps

Mobile devices. Tablet PC, smartphone on laptop

Mobile devices. Tablet PC, smartphone on laptop | iStock.com/Grassetto

Many mobile apps collect user data that allows them to sell advertising. Always review access privileges for apps carefully before you decide to install them. For example, it is abnormal for a dating app to request information about your mobile banking details. In general, personal photos, videos, and other data stored in your mobile device should be kept private.

25. Buy only from safe websites

Couple shopping online at laptop computer

Couple shopping on laptop computer | iStock.com/oneinchpunch

Online shopping scams are a common thing these days. People like to shop online and sometimes they end up on websites that are not legitimate or trustworthy. To avoid online shopping fraud, make sure you only shop on verified websites. Also, remember that if the deal sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.

26. Block it if you doubt it

computer keyboard with Shield icon on enter button

Blocking is quite easy | iStock.com/maxkabakov

People’s accounts can easily get hacked, but if a person always sends you strange links or makes spam comments under your photos, just block them. Also, make sure you ignore invitations from people you do not know. Spammers are integrating into social media with various scams and tricks so stay smart and don’t fall victim to them.

27. Skip the Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs)

woman using smartphone in cafe

Software you download can come with unpleasant add-ons | iStock.com/anyaberkut

Free software often comes with unwanted side effects. Usually, these come in the form of additional adware, extensions, and files that you do not need — Potentially Unwanted Programs or PUPs for short. The advice here is to, first of all, read carefully what you are going to get by installing the software. Make sure to skip installing additional elements by unchecking any boxes in the download screen. One more useful way of skipping the PUPs is getting your apps, software, and extensions from reliable portals and platforms.

28. Do not take online quizzes

A man is working on touchscreen laptop

Online quizzes are mostly a waste of your time | iStock.com/BernardaSv

Colorful and engaging as they might seem, some online quizzes can really be risky from an online security stand point. They can be used as tools to collect your personal information and that opens up the possibility that your information could fall into the wrong hands. If you got some extra time, read an online magazine or an ebook instead.

29. Back up all your data

laptop computer with blank screen connecting to black external hard drive

Don’t forget to back up your computer | iStock.com/dourleak

Back up all the files in your computer, your phone, your tablet. Back up everything so that you can easily restore your files and data after the worst happens such as your computer crashing or your information getting hacked.

30. Tell loved ones and kids about online fraud

Mother And Son In Kitchen Looking At Laptop

Mother and son in kitchen using a laptop| iStock.com/omgimages

Scammers target everyone. They target people regardless of social standing, educational background, and any other factors. In order to protect kids or your loved ones, talk to them about internet safety. The more informed you and the people around you are, the better you’ll be able to prevent an online attack.