by Mark Weinstein, CEO and founder of Sgrouples.com
The Internet is an amazing, fantastic, vibrant place. But there are also evil people out there who steal identities, hack credit card accounts, track personal information, violate privacy, insert malicious programs that can exploit your company or home network, destroy your hard drives and raid your social network.
It’s critical to take the right precautions in these changing times to protect your personal data and systems from attack.
Here are some of the most important ways to protect yourself:
1. Protect Your Wi-Fi Network.
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can track every action you make through your home’s Internet connection. This is typically used to track illegal activity, which is a good thing.
The bad news is that most home wireless networks are easily cracked, meaning someone next door or in a car outside your house can use your network for illegal activity, leaving the blame on you. Even worse, it is possible for someone on your wireless network to access other devices connected to the network, which is a serious security breach.
For this reason, it’s important to learn to secure your own wireless network: Open up your router settings page, create a unique password and network SSID name, enable network encryption, filter MAC addresses, reduce the range of your wireless signal, use a secure wireless network and monitor for unauthorized users.
2. Get Good Antivirus Software.
The next step is to safeguard your computer against virus and malware attacks that can target your personal information and erase your saved data. Some more innocuous malware programs simply track your behavior and bombard you with ads and pop-ups and slow your computer down.
Having a good antivirus program in place can save you a lot of headache by catching threats early. To find the best fit for your home or business, do a search using the keywords “best paid antivirus software” and “best free antivirus software.”
One final note: Even the best antivirus can’t save you 100 percent of the time. Viruses and malware come from the “shady neighborhoods” of the Web — gambling, pop culture, pharmaceutical and adult sites in particular. Be aware of what you’re clicking on; don’t download or open something unless you know what you’re getting into. A little precaution goes a long way.
3. Protect Your Passwords.
These days we have more passwords to remember than ever: Facebook, Twitter, online banking, eBay, not to mention multiple email accounts! Make sure your passwords are different for each account.
At the very least, create alternative passwords for your critical accounts (i.e., your bank account and email). Keep your passwords offline on your hard drive, or, if you want to be even more secure, keep them on a physical notepad you keep near your desk.
Do a search on the following: “creating the best security passwords.” Know what makes a bad password (something easily discovered), get good at creating effective passwords, safeguard your passwords, change them frequently and create an emergency plan. What happens if you or your network administrator dies or is in an accident?
4. Stop Tracking Cookies.
Like it or not, Facebook and other social media are now able to track and record your exact interests. It’s no coincidence. Facebook is tracking all your likes and hobbies, even the words you write, and then uses that data to target advertising to match those interests. It’s not that ads are necessarily a bad thing — it’s the way websites spy on your behavior to sell those ads that is troubling and disconcerting.
A simple, helpful solution is to download the “Do Not Track” extension for your browser, which tells websites not to collect information about you. However, Do Not Track is simply a request for sites to not track you and has varying degrees of effectiveness. For even more control over who can access your information, Abine’s Do Not Track+ and the Ghostery plugin can both stop invisible ad networks from spying on you. HTTPS Everywhere is also a great tool for privatizing your browsing through basic https encryption.
5. Practice Safe Sharing.
The best way to be absolutely sure that information you post online stays secure is to not post it in the first place. It’s all too easy to accidentally share confidential information publicly or to put up too many personal details without realizing who has access to that information.
But, to be realistic, many of us are not going to stop sharing online. That’s why, instead of abstinence, it is important to learn and practice safe sharing. One way to do that is to review the privacy settings on every social media site you participate in and adjust the setting to maximize your protection against unwanted intrusion.
To find out more for each particular social media site, you can also do a search on the following phrases:
6. Don’t Daisy Chain Your Social Media Accounts.
One of the reasons hackers are able to wreak havoc on people so easily is that all their social profiles are connected to one another. This means that if one profile is compromised, the others are likely to be as well.
While connecting to your accounts is easier if all you need to do is log in once to get access to all your social networks, it’s much less secure than if you have separate passwords for each one.
Determine how often you’re likely to use certain Web apps, and ask yourself if you really need to connect yet another third-party app to your Facebook page. If you don’t really need it, cut the link.
Keep in mind, the more apps you have connected to your accounts, the more potential weak points there are in your security.
7. Set Up 2-factor Authentication.
This amazing technological breakthrough requires both a password and a device to access your accounts. So even if someone does hack your vital account passwords, they still can’t access your critical personal or financial accounts without your phone or secure backup device. For more information, do a search on the phrase using 2-factor authentication.
Mark Weinstein is a leading privacy advocate and the creator and founder of SGROUPLES.COM, a private social network and technology that lets people form their own private secure group (called a “Sgrouple”). Sgrouples combines many powerful features, like private groups, personal cloud storage, and direct one-on-one messaging, into the ultimate social experience.