Computers, servers and personal accounts get hacked. It’s an unavoidable and unfortunate part of life in our plugged-in, online lives in the 21st century. Hacks will continue to happen all the time. While some require very sophisticated coding and the computer skill of an MIT graduate, there are other sinister methods that take advantage of rather elementary loopholes. Other times it’s a simple lack of knowledge and human error that deliver your information to a hacker’s waiting arms. The best way to protect yourself from a potential hack is to know what you’re doing that puts you at risk.
Here is a list of common mistakes that computer and internet users make, which leave them vulnerable to the next hack:
1. Weak password
When it’s time for coming up with passwords to secure online accounts, people often get lazy or fear that they will not remember their own creations. Thus, a lot of people choose the easiest, most obvious passwords possible. Annual reports of the most hacked passwords show embarrassingly high numbers of people who use “12345” or “password” as the one defense protecting their online identities. Beef up your passwords by using unpredictable words that a thief could not guess if they had your ID in front of them, combined with equally random numbers.
2. Two-step authentication
Even the most advanced passwords can be guessed by complex computer software. A further safeguard is to use two-step authentication, which requires a user to verify their identity twice, with the use of a text message to one’s cellphone or a verification e-mail.
3. Free Wi-Fi
Every time you access the internet via the open Wi-Fi network in a coffee shop or hotel lobby, or any open network anywhere, you expose yourself to a countless number of hackers who can gain unfettered access to your web surfing. Wi-Fi is also an essential tool in launching large-scale DDoS attacks. Never access your sensitive information (bank account/e-mail/medical records/ etc.) while using open Wi-Fi.
4. Private data on unsecured websites
Entering your credit card information on any webpage that is not “secure” and using the HTTPS protocol is a bad idea. Most serious companies do secure their websites and will say so on their site (a green lock symbol to the left of the URL). If a page is not secure, it’s much easier for hackers to access and intercept the data you provide.
5. Sketchy purchases
When shopping online you should use a service like Paypal, which acts as a payment middleman. It allows you to shop on many websites without scattering your personal and payment information all over the internet – where it’s hard to be sure which sites are legitimate and which are questionable in terms of security and ethics.
6. Clicking on random links
An easy way to fall prey to what’s known as a “phishing” campaign is by opening or downloading an unknown attachment or clicking on an unverified link. Both of these can lead a user to a website that mimics a trusted source, but in reality is aimed at stealing your personal info for nefarious purposes. These scams also come in the form of e-mails prompting you to change your password, and link to a page asking for sensitive information. Before clicking on any links, make sure that they were sent by trustworthy sources. Also, don’t download anything sent by an unknown company or individual.
7. Password variety
While it’s much simpler to use one password for all of your online accounts – this also gives a hacker with access to one of your accounts, access to ALL of them! Diversify your passwords across the internet as much as possible.
8. Being human
We live in an age where all kinds of information – whether an individual’s medical records or a governments’ secret service memorandum – is simply out there: visible and accessible out to a tremendous amount of invisible people and organizations. We will simply have to learn to live in this new age, when ideas of privacy are being re-defined. That said, hacking is still illegal and in many cases preventable. But, don’t beat yourself up for falling prey to a hack – it can happen to anyone. Just make sure you know what online security best practices are – as they are always changing and adapting to the latest scams and loopholes.