How to Protect Yourself Online

In a perfect world, we’d be able to browse the Internet and not have to worry about online safety. Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous individuals who make a career out of stealing people’s information, money, and even identities. Not even major corporations or government websites are 100 percent safe, as we’ve seen in the past.

While there’s no bulletproof solution when dealing with crafty hackers, there are still things you can do to dramatically reduce the chance of being affected by online attacks.

Use Different Passwords

Most of us have one or two passwords that we regularly use for our email, social media, stock trading, banking, etc. Although this certainly makes things easier to remember, it creates an Achilles heel for hackers to exploit.

Creating multiple passwords may be a real pain, but most people would agree that having all of your personal information stolen in one fell swoop is 10 times worse. When passwords are split throughout your online presence, it essentially isolates the damage to a single area.

Change Your Passwords Regularly

Although a minor annoyance, having to keep changing your passwords is still better than the alternative. Consistently altering this information frequently keeps you one step ahead of would-be hackers.

The frequency with which you make these changes is entirely up to you. Once a month is a safe balance between convenience and security, but the more often you do this, the better. This is especially true if you’ve been hacked before or have sensitive information on your PC or laptop; you simply can’t be too careful.

Use a Firewall

A lot of people think that a simple anti-virus program is enough, but this is a fatal mistake for many unsuspecting computer users. Think of it this way: would you rather stop a burglar with a baseball bat or prevent him from breaking in to begin with?

Firewalls form a protective barrier by limiting which programs can access the Internet. Usually, viruses and other malware try to sneak in through the back door via obscure processes and programs that your computer runs in the background. They can then record your keystrokes to obtain passwords or even take control of the machine to grab private data.

Whenever software tries to access the Internet, your firewall will display a popup to tell you about the attempt. If it seems suspicious, just click “deny,” and that door slams shut. It’s easy as that.

Realistically, the only programs that should be allowed access by default are things like web browsers, online games, or anything that exclusively requires the Internet to function.

Use an Anti-Virus

Most people at least have an anti-virus program on their computer; however (as stated earlier), this is a last line of defence. Firewalls are pretty good at keeping things out, but if the program breaks or needs to be reinstalled, that small window of time could be all it takes for your computer to get infected.

There are plenty of free protection programs available that are just as effective as their paid counterparts. Even if you do have to purchase them, most companies offer temporary free trials so that you can see if they’re right for you.

It’s absolutely critical that you have regularly scheduled scans every 24 hours. The anti-virus program can set this up for you, or you may designate the best time. It’s best to have the scans run during times when your daily activities won’t be interrupted, such as late at night.

Reformat Regularly

Wiping your computer and starting from scratch is a real pain. It may seem like a pointless move if the laptop or PC seems to be working fine. The truth, however, is that some viruses are exceptionally good at hiding; even firewalls and anti-virus programs can’t seem to grab them. Unless you’re particularly savvy and can edit your computer’s registry without creating a nuclear meltdown, it helps to reformat once in a while.

The online world is an exciting, convenient place. But without the right protection, it’s a technological minefield. Take the time to properly protect yourself as thoroughly as possible. Remember that some of these measures may be annoying, but it certainly beats the alternative.

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