Making your online accounts more secure is becoming more and more important as we increasingly rely on the “Internet of Things”.
How long have you been accessing the internet? 5 years? 10? 20 or more? It’s very likely you have old accounts at forums, social media platforms (Myspace?) and other online services that you have long forgotten about. Every one of them is a potential access point into your life for a hacker. You need to secure them all.
Here are the things you can do to protect yourself:
Firstly, if you can still find an old unused account, close it. Ever seen one of those announcements that tell you some service has been hacked and several million email addresses and passwords have been stolen? Here are a few of the large databases that have been compromised in recent years:
Adobe, Dropbox, eLance, LinkedIn, Tumblr and Adult Friend Finder
Adult Friend Finder alone lost the data of 169,746,810 users in 2016. There are many more but just these few have resulted in hundreds of millions of compromised passwords available for purchase by hackers for nefarious purposes.
Problem is, if any of your accounts (disused or still active) have been compromised and you use the same password in any other account you are now vulnerable. Type into Google: “have i been pwned” and enter your email address to see if your data has ever been stolen.
Use a Password Manager
The problem with passwords is that they are hard to remember. Writing them down is not a good idea so many people use simple passwords and use the same one for multiple accounts.
Making your online accounts more secure is easy with a good password manager like RoboForm or 1Password or LastPass. They will not only securely store all your login credentials, they will also generate highly secure passwords for you. Rather than having a password like ”yourpetsname123” a password manager will generate something like “i*%w!67y3ys5” which is very hard to crack indeed and you can have a different one for reach account because you don’t have to remember it.
Use Two Factor Verification
Many online accounts now support this. This means that even if your username and password are stolen; the hacker won’t get access because an extra code is required and that code is sent to you typically via SMS. So unless the hacker has physical access to your phone (and the password you have locked it with of course 😊) your accounts are safe.
So; enable two factor verification with every account that offers it.
Protect your password resets
If someone can get at your login details they can reset your password, thus locking you out of your account. Many accounts now have the facility to protect you from this. In your account settings look for something like a tick box saying “require personal information to change my password”. It will ask you several secret questions like “Name of your first pet”. You likely won’t be resetting your password often so make sure the answers are things you can easily remember.
Monitor Your Account Activity
Facebook and Google and many other accounts let you view your recent activity. It’s worth doing this periodically to see if anything unusual is going on. You can usually log out of any sessions other than your current one and revoke authorisations for devices you don’t recognise or old devices you no longer use. Selling or discarding an old mobile phone? Revoke its authorisations before you dispose of it.
Delete third-party account connections
Allowing other apps and services connect to your Facebook, Twitter and other accounts is fine but keep these types of connections to a minimum and remove those you no longer use. It’s yet another avenue hackers can take advantage of.
Update all your software regularly
Outdated software is a prime target for hackers. Microsoft recently ceased supporting Windows 7 for instance so there are likely to be problems there in coming months. Make sure your operating system, programs and browsers are always up to date to help keep your data secure. Most software these days auto updates in the background so it’s easy to stay on top of it. Just make sure auto-update is switched on wherever available.
Beware strange emails and links
Phishing scams get smarter all the time. Never click through to your bank or other important account from a link that has been emailed to you. Go to your browser instead and type the URL in directly. Watch out for emails from your friends that ask you to click on links without providing some non-generic context. Their email account and mailing list could well have been hacked. If you think that is the case, contact them and suggest they change their password.
Use Antivirus Software
Making your online accounts more secure really should include antivirus software. There are plenty of different security software options out there. Windows Defender is effective and free (with Windows). This combined with Malwarebytes (free or paid version) is pretty good overall protection unless you are prone to doing silly things online.
Use a VPN
Virtual Private Network Software is essential if you use public WiFi in places like airports, hotels and coffee shops. Hacking into an unprotected device is easy on a public network – don’t let it become yours. VPN encrypts everything so even your ISP can’t see it and is also great if you have reason to want to appear to be in a different country or location.
Change your passwords regularly
Using a password manager as suggested above is great protection as your passwords are complex and you never need the same one on more than one account. However, any username and password can still be stolen. To protect from this, change your passwords regularly. Making your online accounts more secure by regularly changing your password means that when hackers use or sell your data after a big theft it will likely be obsolete by the time anyone gets to use it.
Use a different email address
Consider creating a separate email address just for use in log ins. Make it completely unrelated to your name. The email addresses you use daily are common knowledge out there. Having a secret one for log ins provides an extra layer of protection.
Keep Track of your phone
For most people these days their mobile phone is a gateway to everything. If you lose yours all your data is at serious risk. Learn how to track your phone’s location and also how to lock or wipe it remotely. Wipe it completely if you sell or discard it.
Use phone login protection
Depending on your phone you will have the option of PIN, facial. iris and/or fingerprint recognition. Use these to prevent a stolen phone being easily accessed before you have time to locate or wipe it remotely.
Be careful about what you share publicly
Set your Facebook account to “share with friends only”. There is typically a lot of personal stuff in there: what school you went to, what footy team you support, your phone number, your birthday, when you next expect to go out (leaving your house empty). All this can be weaponised against you if it reaches the wrong hands.
So there you have it, several ways of making your online accounts more secure.
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