As we enter into the final month of 2015, let’s vow to make 2016 the year we really are good about our tech security. You may think you’re doing everything in your power to protect your personal information, but the truth is, identity theft is becoming ever more common, and a lot of us have bad habits that make us easy targets for hackers and thieves.
Here are some unfortunate mistakes people have a tendency to make:
- Installing software and applications from illegitimate sources.
When you get a new device—whether it’s a smartphone, tablet or computer—the first thing you want to do is make sure you have everything you need so you can use the device the way you envision. But software and apps can come riddled with malware or spyware. Make sure you read through the reviews prior to downloading anything and get all your apps from developers you can trust.
- Not using a VPN.
Many people don’t even realize that the uses of a Virtual Private Network (VPN) go beyond watching Netflix from a foreign country or circumventing other geo-restrictions, but a VPN is one of the best lines of defense in keeping your personal information secure. Not only will a VPN shield information from the site that you’re accessing (information that is normally shared via cookies), but it also makes it difficult for a hacker to access your computer across a wireless network. You should definitely be using one of the strongest VPNs available, especially when accessing public WiFi networks.
- Allowing your device to automatically connect to open networks.
Especially with a smartphone, it’s fairly common to turn on automatic connection so that you don’t need to search for those open WiFi networks and join them manually. But the problem with doing so is that your device doesn’t have any way of making the distinction between what is a legitimate network and what isn’t. You should exercise caution when connecting to a WiFi network though. A hacker could set up what’s known as a malicious hotspot—something that looks like a public WiFi network but which is really designed to steal all your passwords and other information as soon as you connect to it.
- Never installing updates.
It’s easy to say that you’ll run those updates later, but how many times have you forgotten or neglected to ever actually do that? The thing is, software and system updates are usually meant to patch up known security issues—so by not running updates, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable to an increasingly well-known threat. That said, sometimes these updates are also linked with increasing potential security risks so it might be best to wait a couple days or a week to make sure the kinks have been sorted out and everything’s running smoothly.
- Forgetting that viruses aren’t only attached to spammy email links.
Although these days, most people are vigilant and refrain from opening emails that come from unknown sources or that seem a bit strange, a lot of people either don’t know or don’t pay attention to the fact that viruses can also attach to your computer across a rogue WiFi network or be loaded specifically onto your computer if you have file-sharing turned on in a public place or in a plethora of other ways. And beyond frustrating viruses, you could also find yourself victim to a phishing scam if you enter your password, credit card information or other sensitive details on a site that’s either untrustworthy or hacked. Be smart when you’re using the internet, and make sure your anti-virus software is up-to-date just in case!
- Being oblivious to your surroundings.
It can be nice to tune out the world on that long commute from the office to home or wherever else, but walking down the street with your headphones blasting music and your head buried in your Twitter feed is a clear sign to would-be thieves that you are distracted and therefore an easy target. If you’re totally oblivious to your surroundings, it’s very easy for someone to steal your device without your even getting a good look at the perp. This goes for leaving your device sitting unattended on a table at a café while you run up to get sugar for your coffee too. Remember, you and your device don’t exist in your own bubble!
- Sharing too much information via social media.
Although we, of course, want to share our exciting plans with our friends and family, there is a such thing as sharing too much information on social media. Think about it: if you tell everyone on your friends list (some of whom you may not even know very well) that you’ll be out of town for the next couple weeks, suddenly you’ve alerted burglars to the fact that your home will be unattended and that you won’t know anything’s been stolen until you return—by which time, they can be far away. For your own protection and for the safety of your things, limit the information you give out; you can tell everyone about what you’ve been up to after it’s happened.
Are there any other common security faux pas that you’ve noticed? What do you do to protect your identity and your devices from being stolen?