There is no denying the fact that individuals are spending more time online than ever before, and these figures increased even more throughout the pandemic. The average adult in the United States spent 7 hours and fifty minutes connected every day during 2021, which is an increase of 15% over 2019 figures. And while many people adopt habits that make it easy to conduct personal and professional activities online – such as one-touch payment options and failing to implement log-in restrictions – many of these habits can introduce vulnerabilities that put personal and financial information at risk.
And the threat is very real. Growth in digital fraud has kept pace with users’ increased connectivity. The first four months of 2021 experienced an increase of 25% in digital fraud attempts. The anticipated losses related to digital fraud in 2021 are expected to exceed $720 billion in the United States. This type of fraud encompasses identity theft, malware attempts, phishing, and other sophisticated strategies the cybercriminals employ. And the financial losses are just the tip of the iceberg. Many victims of cybercrime spend countless hours trying to sort out their accounts and finances after being victimized.
While these statistics are troubling, the good news is that consumers have many options for proactively taking measures to protect their information while online. The following strategies can help you keep your personal information secure.
1. Lock Your Devices
One of the easiest ways to protect your data is by securing the devices you use. It’s incredibly easy to leave a tablet or smartphone in a public place, and you cannot trust that the individual who finds it will do the right thing (hopefully, they will). And without password protection for access, anyone who could gain access to the device will be able to view a treasure trove of valuable data. Depending upon how you use the device, they could pull data such as account numbers, passwords, credit card numbers, and other sensitive personal information.
Putting password protection on all of your devices – no matter how infrequently they may be used – is one way to safeguard your digital information if someone can gain physical access to the device. If your devices have tracking capabilities, it is a good idea to enable those, too. This setting can help with the recovery of a lost or stolen device and minimize the potential damage.
2. Adopt Strong Passwords or Multi-Factor Authentication
Passwords are usually the only things standing between a cybercriminal and your information. Unfortunately, many people still rely on weak passwords that are eight characters or less, and they reuse passwords across multiple accounts. In an age where billions of passwords and their corresponding usernames have been leaked to the dark web, this is a recipe for disaster.
Rather than selecting passwords that are easy to remember, you can secure your information by selecting random and uncrackable passwords, which can be accomplished by following a few guidelines:
- Don’t use obvious passwords, like password or
- Make it 15 characters or more. If you are using familiar information, consider a passphrase, rather than one word.
- Mix up the characters to include symbols, lowercase letters, and uppercase letters.
- Use a password generator or password manager to keep track of all passwords and assign them random characters.
- Change passwords frequently so that if your password is hacked, it will be out-of-date by the time a cybercriminal can attempt to use it.
If you want to go above and beyond implementing a strong password, you can implement two-factor or multi-factor authentication. This protocol adds an extra layer of security by requiring additional information from the user. On top of providing the password, the user often has to provide something like a pin, answers to secret questions, or biometric data. It can also require that the user verify the access using a device they own. While there are several types of multi-factor authentication, it is a great additional security feature that should be used on accounts whenever possible.
3. Avoid Opening Links
One of the most common strategies cyber criminals use to access personal data is by tricking users into sharing information from legitimate-looking emails. If you receive an email with a link, it’s a great idea to review it for red flags before clicking any links. Common red flags include:
- Spelling or grammatical errors.
- The originating email does not match the company’s information.
- Unanticipated communications.
- Vague messages that claim your account is suspended or that you need to provide additional information.
- An urgent tone.
The rationale behind this method is that if they can induce panic, an individual will share information more willingly than they might at another time. And unfortunately, this method fools a lot of people. If you receive communication with any of the red flags, it’s worth doing some research before clicking a link. When in doubt, call the company directly using contact information that matches their listed contact information. Never call a number listed in a suspicious email. If the communication is legitimate, the company can verify this over the phone.
4. Monitor the Information You Share
Many people also love to use social media sites to share information with friends and family. But remember that once that data is out there, it is public unless your account restricts access. And cybercriminals can mine your social media accounts to gain answers to secret questions and guess passwords. Share only information that cannot be used to hack your digital information and only share it with trusted individuals. Never give your password to anyone or leave a list of passwords where someone can access it (unless you provide a copy to the executor of your estate).
Keeping your information safe and secure is truly a challenge in today’s modern age. To learn more about strategies to protect your personal and financial information, contact Sagacent Technologies today. Sagacent Technologies is a trusted managed IT service provider that has been serving the San Jose region for years. Our team of experts can identify additional tools and strategies to keep your data safe.