It’s not that you try to be unsafe online, but it’s easy to get careless when you surf the web. You might log into your bank account online while using public Wi-Fi, possibly exposing your password and username to a cybercriminal. Or maybe you use the same password at every financial site you visit on the web, making it easier for hackers to access your credit cards and bank accounts. You might even open an attachment in an email that you think has been sent by your bank. When you do, your computer is flooded with malware.
Little things — like creating strong passwords, avoiding public Wi-Fi, using a virtual private network, and being cautious of what you’re downloading, opening, and sending — can help you protect your personal finances.
Ready to boost your cybersecurity? Here’s what you need to know.
3 Areas to protect yourself online
Cybersecurity is an important issue. And those who don’t protect themselves risk exposing their personal and financial information. So how do you protect yourself in different online situations? Here’s a look at the steps you can take depending on what you’re doing on the Internet.
Use caution when banking online
Online banking is convenient. You can check the balance on your accounts and credit cards, pay your bills, and transfer money all from your computer or smartphone screen. But it’s also risky. If cybercriminals gain access to your bank or credit card accounts, they could use your money to make online purchases.
One of the biggest threats here is phishing. In this method, scammers create fake emails that look legitimate. Never click on a link in an unsolicited email, even if that email looks like it comes from your bank or credit card company. Their goal is to trick you into providing information they need to access your online bank accounts.
If you receive an email from a bank or credit card provider asking you to click on a link to keep your account open, asking you to reply with your account login information, or provide sensitive information such as your Social Security Number to verify a recent charge, delete the email. Authentic correspondence will never ask you to provide private account information over email. If you are concerned that the threat might be legitimate, call the company’s customer service number to talk to a representative.
And never use public Wi-Fi to log into your online bank or credit accounts unless you also use a VPN. Hackers can easily snoop on public Wi-Fi, gaining the information they need to access your online accounts. A virtual private network (VPN) gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot.
Stay vigilant while working from home
You might be spending more time working from home. This, too, can open you to more frequent cybercrimes.
Why? First, your home computer or other devices may not be as well-protected as the devices in your office. Secondly, you might be tempted to leave your home office to work in your local coffee shop or public library. And that means you might be relying more often on public Wi-Fi.
Again, you should never use public Wi-Fi to access your online financial accounts. You also shouldn’t use it to access sensitive work-related materials. You could expose all this important information to cybercriminals who are spying on your activity. If you must use public Wi-Fi, use it only for innocuous web searching, such as reading news stories, reviewing the weather, or reading restaurant reviews.
Make sure any devices that you are using at home are protected by updated antivirus software. And always approve the updates from this software. Antivirus software is often updated specifically to protect machines from newly discovered viruses. It’s smart to allow automatic updates to help keep your at-home devices protected against these new threats.
It’s also easy to get complacent when working from home. You might find yourself with more free time during the workday, hours you might fill by browsing websites. Be careful of what sites you visit and what files you download. And if you are installing a new app, make sure you purchase it from a reputable place such as the App Store or Google Play.
Always use caution before downloading videos, images, or files from sites. Make sure to download only from well-known, legitimate sites. If you don’t, you might accidentally download a file that’s infected with malware.
Protect yourself while gaming online
Spending a lot of time online gaming? This isn’t unusual as more people are working from home. But, more online gaming means more opportunity for cybercriminals.
There’s credential stuffing, for example. In this attack, cybercriminals use password and username combinations that have already been stolen in data breaches and are now available for sale on the dark web. They then use automated software to enter these combinations into gaming sites such as Steam.
If hackers can access your gaming account, they can steal your credit card information and other personally identifiable information connected to it. Armed with this information, scammers can run up fraudulent purchases on your credit cards or steal the weapons, armor, and upgrades that you’ve earned while gaming.
Other scammers might trick you into downloading what you think is a legitimate game. When you download the file, though, it infects your device with malicious code, letting cybercriminals spy on your keystrokes, take control of your devices or snoop on your private email messages.
One of the best ways to protect yourself? Only download games from legitimate gaming sources such as Steam, Origin, or GOG.com. And to keep safe from credential stuffing attacks, use multiple passwords at different sites. This way, if thieves discover one of your log-in and password combinations, they won’t be able to access all your gaming accounts. A good rule of thumb is to make sure your passwords are at least eight characters long and don’t use a solitary word in any language. Hackers have dictionary-based systems to crack these types of passwords. Instead, use a three-word phrase and insert numbers and symbols for some letters.
Finally, be sure to change your passwords frequently, which will also make life more difficult for hackers, as well as protect your finances.
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