The headlines say it all: There has been a data breach at your favorite store or restaurant, and your personal identification and credit card information may be compromised.
In this hyperdigital world, everyone is at risk, but there are steps you can take to reduce your vulnerability. Dr. Gary Griffith, a faculty member in Walden University’s School of Information Systems and Technology with more than 30 years of professional experience in the information systems field, shares some ways to help secure your personal information and protect yourself online.
Start with a strong password. Longer, more complex passwords provide better protection. Choose at least eight characters and include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special symbols. Remember to select a different password for each of your accounts to decrease the chance that someone can gain access to all of them. Do you need help remembering multiple passwords? Make it easier by combining common words and numbers (for example, cat, 76, and Washington can become Catwashington76, 6catWashington7, or 6C@+W@shington7) or by using symbols in place of letters in a familiar phrase (such as M@ry h@d @ little l@mb).
As an alternative you can use what is known as a passphrase. Instead of just creating or combining words and numbers, you use a well-known phrase and alter the spaces or characters. For example, “The customer is always right!” could become “Th3 cust0m3r 1z 4lw47s r1ghT!”
Click with caution. Emails from strangers, empty subject lines, unsolicited attachments, and content consisting only of a link to a website are all signs of potential risk. If you have doubts about an email, move it to your junk folder immediately and scan it for viruses and malware. When you use a mobile device, think carefully before accepting an app that’s offered to you. Some applications may be malware in disguise, which may give a third party access to your personal information.
Show social media smarts. Visiting social media sites can put your security at greater risk. Limit the information you make public, and don’t broadcast private messages. For example, the location information you share with family and friends may also reach someone waiting for you to leave your house. It’s also important to ignore invitations from strangers on social media sites. You should delete invitations from people you do not know. Responding will allow the person to see your personal information for one month, even if you don’t accept the invitation.
Bank with care. Always choose a strong password, and close all other applications and your email accounts while you’re banking online. After your banking session, always log out, and close your browser to make it more difficult for others to access your banking activity. As an extra precaution, ask your bank whether it’s possible to receive an automatic notification if there’s a withdrawal above an amount you specify or your balance drops below a particular amount.
Be wary of Wi-Fi. It’s tempting to check email when you’re at a coffee shop or waiting at the airport for a flight. But that free public Wi-Fi connection comes with a catch: It’s extremely insecure. At home, secure your wireless connection by resetting manufacturer default logins, activating encryption, and changing the default service set identifier (SSID) or public name of your Wi-Fi network. When you change the public name, use random symbols instead of your last name or “my network” and disable broadcasting to further limit the likelihood that hackers can gain access to your network.
Though it’s impossible to ensure complete security in cyberspace, taking these precautions can help reduce the risk that your personal information will be compromised.
For additional tips from Dr. Griffith, watch the Walden webinar “Cyber Security: 10 Things You Need to Know” at www.waldenu.edu/about/events/webinars/technology/cyber-security-10-things-you-need-to-know.