It’s National Cyber Security Awareness Month, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, considering we all just went through National Equifax Breach Awareness Month.
Consider freezing or locking your credit files at all three credit bureaus.
If you’re still upset with the credit bureau for the hack that exposed the personal data of more than 145 million people, channel your outrage into action. No, you can’t change the fact that your information might be out there for hackers to misuse, but there are some things you can control. Follow these five tips to protect yourself and your loved ones.
1. Start paying attention to the data companies collect on you
Credit bureaus like Equifax collect information about your financial history to build your credit reports. You can’t stop them from doing this, but you can keep a close eye on your reports and credit card and bank account statements. If you haven’t already, sign up for a free credit score and report source so you can watch for suspicious changes. Then consider freezing or locking your credit files at all three credit bureaus. Use alerts to stay on top of credit card transactions.
2. Assume nothing on the internet can ever be deleted
Before you put something online, the Department of Homeland Security recommends asking yourself: “Am I comfortable sharing this information with the whole world?” This will require a mindset change if you’re used to tagging your location, displaying your date of birth or posting photos on social media. Consider each update and control who can see your posts with privacy settings. And if you’re uncomfortable with what others share about you online, talk to them about it.
3. Be wary while browsing — at home or on the go
Before you enter sensitive information on any site — while on your computer or your phone — check that the site is secure. The URL should begin with “https” and you should see a lock symbol next to it. When in doubt, do a quick internet search for phishing scams associated with that website. The Federal Trade Commission keeps a running list of well-known scams.
When you’re connected to a free public wireless network, be extra cautious.
Avoid shopping or conducting bank business while connected to a free public wireless network — they’re typically not secure. If you’re in a coffee shop, store or airport, Homeland Security suggests confirming the name and login procedure for the wireless network with a staff member. A cybercriminal might have created a network with a similar name to confuse you and steal information.
4. Update software regularly on all devices
Homeland Security recommends updating software when new versions become available so that hackers can’t exploit known weaknesses from older versions. This applies not only to your computer and mobile phone operating system, but also to wearables and connected devices, such as Fitbits and home security systems.
5. Talk about cybersecurity with family
Hackers operate in groups, and you should, too. Teach those around you how to stay safe online, especially children and older relatives. Government resources such as OnguardOnline.gov and StaySafeOnline.org are meant for parents and educators. AARP’s website offers an online security guide for seniors.