You may think you’re just an ordinary person. You live in an ordinary house, have ordinary stuff, you’re not too rich and not too poor. But to a cybercriminal, you have tremendous value! Your computer could be used to hack into other computers around the world. Your bank account or credit card could help fund somebody else’s bank account. So how’s an ordinary person supposed to protect themselves?
- Think before you click. Don’t click on links or open attachments in emails unless you are absolutely sure the email and sender are legitimate. Many of us have received emails from our friends whose email accounts have been hacked. We know someone who received an online greeting card from a friend . . . that turned out to be a computer virus. Sometimes these emails are obviously bogus, and sometimes not so much. It’s a lot less costly to pick up the phone and call your friend to be sure they sent an email attachment than to have your computer infected with malware. Be sure.
- Don’t give out personal information. Criminals are experts in trickery. They can make emails look legitimate, or they can call you on the phone and convince you they’re someone they’re not. The best rule of thumb is to never give out personal information – like your credit card number, social security number or computer password – to someone who contacts you by phone or email. If it sounds authentic, get the person’s name, hang up, and look up the organization’s phone number from a trusted outside source and call back.
- Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Be sure you update your operating system to the most current version, and install any security patches. See our article about the demise of Windows XP.
- Use strong passwords. Let’s talk about the definition of strong. That doesn’t mean using the name of your grandchild, pet or mother’s maiden name. Remember that Facebook has opened our private lives out to the rest of the world, and your personal information is not very hard to find. Strong passwords don’t include words that can be found in the dictionary. Strong passwords don’t include numbers that can be easily remembered like your phone number or address. And strong passwords are unique to each different application – if a hacker discovers one password, you don’t want them to be able to access all of your applications.
- Check your bank account and credit card activity frequently. If you see any suspicious activity, report it to your bank immediately. Sign up for alerts from your bank for unusually large or odd transactions.
- Be cautious about social media. Information you post online can make it easier for criminals to fool you, and can make you a more valuable target.