With the rise of hackers and identity theft on both personal and political levels, cyber security is somewhat of a hot topic these days. The cyber definition is anything that takes place on the world wide web, a realm where less than reputable individuals are continually working hard to steal money and personal information.

Securing the web is a complicated process, especially with hackers constantly finding ways to breach online defenses. There are, however, a number of things you can do to keep your web sessions as private as possible. Here’s the ultimate guide to internet safety, better known as cyber security.

What Happens When Your Identity Is Stolen?

In many cases, it can be hard to identify when a hacker has breached your privacy. Their software and methods easily go unnoticed as you go about your daily online routine. Often, individuals do not realize their information has been hacked for several months.

Once you’ve become a victim of a cybersecurity threat, there are numerous things that could take place based on what the hacker was after. Most commonly, identity thieves are after your social security number and banking information for a big payday.

In-between the time you’ve been hacked, and when you notice, thieves can rack up immense amounts of debt in your name or wipe out your accounts. Some hackers aim to steal programs off of your computer that you previously paid for, selling them to other unsuspecting individuals online.

In 2014, a group of hackers targeted a large number of tax returns by changing the information around so that they would receive the funds. It’s not easy to tell what exactly will happen when you become the victim of identity theft, but the results are never pleasant.

Recovering your accounts can be a long, drawn-out process that affects nearly every aspect of your life. Credit scores can be ruined, banks may take months to put money back into your accounts, and regaining lost software is a daunting task filled with hour-long phone calls to customer service departments.

What You Can Do

When it comes to your own cyber protection, there are fundamental terms and areas you need to understand in order to keep your information safe. Each of the sections below are places where criminals try to strike, and each comes with a few steps you can take to better protect yourself when browsing the web.

Secure Your Passwords

Today’s world requires a lot of passwords for various online tools and subscriptions. From your email to that monthly newsletter about delicious recipes, it’s crucial that you keep these codes secret and safe.

The first step is to choose a secure password, which requires an eight-character long combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. Do your best to make your passwords less of a phrase and more like the combination to a safe. It also doesn’t hurt to utilize two-factor authentication whenever possible.

Using a word followed by numbers makes it easy for hackers to swipe your identity from right underneath your nose. They implement dictionary-based systems that crack these passcodes in no time flat. As always, stay away from birthdays, phone numbers and please don’t use your social security number.

It is also essential that you never use the same password twice. Several individuals have used the same password for everything from their email to online banking and later came to regret it. Once a hacker has your go-to password, they’re free to invade every aspect of your life.

Last, but not least, use your computer’s password manager. Do not rely on your browser but let your computer’s operating system store and save passwords for you. This creates an extra barrier of protection while making it easier to remember all of the combinations you’ve chosen to use. Also, don’t be afraid to change passwords every once in a while!

Malware Protection

Computer security news will also mention the latest in malware protection. Malware is a broad term used to describe any type of malicious software on the internet aimed at breaching your security. It could be as harmless as adware (remember all of those pop-up screens on older computers?) to something that threatens to steal your credit card information.

You can pick up malware from supposed “free” software programs, file sharing, or by not using an internet security program. Identity thieves sneak this malicious software in with other files, making it difficult to detect until the damage is done.

Ransomware is another form malware hackers like to use, which holds your information hostage until you pay a fee. These are most often found in “phishing” emails, which you email provider most likely filters out as spam. The thing to know about phishing emails is that they look fishy, so don’t click on them.

Protecting your computer from malware is as simple as purchasing protective software. Everyone from Microsoft to BestBuy sells their own brand, and there are free malware protectors online offered by companies that enjoy privacy just as much as you do.

Data Breaches

Have you ever heard about a major bank experiencing a data breach, potentially comprising every single one of their client’s personal information? It happens more than you might think, but there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Any reputable company will contact you immediately in the event of a breach and compensate you for any losses that may have occurred. Banks will issue new credit cards, and other institutions will provide new login credentials. In the meantime, place a security freeze on your credit report so the hacker cannot open a new line of credit in your name.

You may also want to contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center when the breach has involved your social security number. This will alert officials who can then keep tabs on your information, checking for any suspicious activity.

Encryption

Encryption software scrambles the information you send and receive from one end to the other. If you were making an online transaction, companies are required to encrypt your personal data during the process.  

Scrambling creates a single, one-use code that travels from your computer to the companies and vice versa. Hackers have no use for these codes, as they are destroyed once the transaction has been made and all personal information revolving around the sale is taken offline.

You can use this same technology for various aspects of browsing the web. If you see a lock icon in your browser’s status bar, any information you send is already encrypted. If not, you can purchase cyber security software that protects the fields you fill out as you type in the required info.

Privacy Policies

Believe it or not, some companies are more than happy to sell your information to third-party sites. In most cases, this is used merely to deliver ads from Google that you might want to click on to help the website make a little profit on the sale.

Sometimes, however, a privacy policy might reveal that more information than your comfortable with is being sent out to various companies. Your address, phone number, and even date of birth might be a part of that shared info.

It’s a pain to do, but you should always read over every privacy policy before clicking on the agree button below. If a website or business has no privacy policy, steer clear!

Other Precautions

The following list is filled with extra cybersecurity tips to help keep your private information safe.

  • Never plug an unknown USB device into your computer
  • Only browse sites with verified SSL certificates (Your security software will let you know which ones have them)
  • Never enter personal information over a public Wi-Fi network
  • Keep your software up to date and run a security check regularly
  • Stay away from banner ads placed in or around website content
  • Avoid using browser extensions
  • Be skeptical of offers and clickable content
  • Stay up to date on cyber news, where you’ll find the latest software and safety techniques
  • Always wipe all of the information off of an old computer before disposing of it
  • Store financial information on your desktop, not your laptop

Protection Against Cyber Threats

Unfortunately, there will always be criminals out there looking for a devious way to make a quick buck. The internet gives them a playground to create new, intricate methods of attempting to steal your personal information. That doesn’t mean you have to be their victim, though!

By following the precautions above, you can rest easy at night knowing that your information is safe from prying eyes and thieves. It’s impossible to completely stop identity theft altogether, but you can create a barrier between these criminals and your private information. The more you know about cyber security, the safer you are.