Protecting your privacy and securing your home computers is easier than you might imagine. Better security isn’t just for big organizations or the uber-nerds-everyone, regardless of their computer literacy, can take simple steps to better secure their data and their personal devices. Small steps really can make a big impact.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are six tips that will go a long way to keeping you and your information safe.
1. Don’t be lazy with passwords
It might seem like the easy thing to do – less typing and remembering, right? – But using the same password on every service and app is a really bad idea.
Sites and services get hacked pretty frequently, and hackers will often post a big data dump of all the email addresses and passwords they gather during that hack. Then they take those email addresses and passwords and try them out on other sites and apps, and sadly it often works.
So if you use the same password on a harmless free gaming app and a social media account, if that harmless app gets hacked you may find yourself locked out of your social media account the next day, as your profile has been hacked too.
2. Use 2FA on your accounts to keep hackers out
For the accounts that are really important to you, taking an extra step to keep them out of a hacker’s hands is really worth doing.
A lot of services, like email, social media, and games offer what’s called multifactor or two-factor authentication. This is an additional measure of security to add to your account that goes beyond passwords. Sometimes the multifactor authentication comes in the form of a numerical code the service texts to you, in other cases the service will help you set up multifactor authentication with a third-party authenticator (like Google Authenticator).
Other services may have their own authenticator app or key generator they will ask you to use – if a service offers multifactor authentication, they’ll walk you through how to set it up and use it.
3. Keep your software up to date
One of the main ways that bad guys can do damage to computers is by taking advantage of flaws in software. These flaws allow the criminals to make the software do things it normally wouldn’t, and often they’ll give an attacker a way into gaining control over the computer and the files on it. The people who make software know that attackers take advantage of these flaws though, so they often make updates and fixes to patch those flaws and keep the bad guys out.
That’s why it’s so important to update the software or apps that you use as soon as the updates are available: It gives you the best, most updated defenses against people who might want to break into your device or computer. You wouldn’t let a leaky roof keep dripping, would you?
4. Protect your information
Whether you’re talking to someone or using an app or a service, it’s crucial to protect your personal information (your full name, your birthdate, or where you go to school), and your location (like where you live, or where you frequently hang out with your friends).
If someone or something is asking for your details, ask yourself why. Who are they, and why do they want this information? What do they want to do with it? Follow your gut instinct: If something feels off about the website or app that’s asking, trust that gut instinct and stop what you’re doing.
5. Make backups of your files
So much of our lives are on our computers and phones now, from precious photos and videos of loved ones to crucial files and finances for work. For almost all of us, it would be devastating if suddenly we couldn’t access these files, or if these files were lost completely.
The easy solution here is to make sure you keep backups of your files, either via a dedicated cloud backup service (like Carbonite), on a cloud storage device (like iCloud or Dropbox) or on an external hard drive that you own (like TimeMachine), or on a mixture of all three!
The key thing is that you backup your files somewhere off the device where those files normally live, so if something happens to that device – you lose it, it breaks, or it gets infected with ransomware – copies of your files are still safe and sound elsewhere.
Getting a file backup service may take a few minutes to set up, but it gives you so much peace of mind should the worst happen.
6. Think before you download
You don’t want to do anything that might make your phone stop working properly, or that could put it under someone else’s control. Download apps or browser extensions from trustworthy sources, otherwise they could allow someone to take control of your device, steal your information, compromise your accounts – and even demand ransom money to release control of the devices and its contents back to you.