Protecting Your Online Identity:
5 Steps for
Identity theft is on the rise. As noted by the Insurance Information
Institute, $16 billion was stolen from more than 15 million U.S. consumers
in 2017 alone — that’s $2 million more than 2016. Why the uptick? As
users shift to mobile devices and spend more time connected to Internet
services, opportunities for hackers are growing. By compromising online
accounts, cybercriminals can gain access to credit card data, banking
information and personal details that could impact victims for months or
even years. Your best bet is to take the time now to protect your online
identity. Here are five simple steps to help you get started.
Passwords remain the go-to security protection for online accounts
— users are familiar with login/password requirements, and these
protections may deter low-level attackers. The problem is attackers
easily guess many passwords. For example, in 2016 the top two
passwords were “123456” and “password”.
The solution is to start stronger. Use something that contains at least one
capital, one number and one special character, and don’t reuse the password
on another site. Change the password at least once every six months. It’s also
a good idea to implement multifactor authentication wherever possible. The
simplest form is two-factor authentication, which uses a one-time text or
app code that users must provide to access their accounts.
Forget “Free” Wi-Fi
As noted by Forbes, free Wi-Fi hotspots are an easy way for hackers to grab
personal information. Why? Because all they need to do is set up shop in
a public place and create dummy networks called “Coffee Shop Wi-Fi” or
“Customer Wi-Fi Access” — and then wait for users to join. Once connected,
cybercriminals can gain total access to your device. There’s a simple answer
here: Don’t use free Wi-Fi. Opt for LTE or 4G on your mobile device, or
wait until you’re connected to a secure network.
Obscure Your Origins
If hackers know your IP address, they can start backtracking your
connection. If they discover you’re not encrypting data in transit, they could
eavesdrop on any network connection and grab critical account data such
as usernames and passwords. It’s a good idea to consider a virtual private
network (VPN) or other means to obscure your information from prying
eyes. VPNs obscure your IP and encrypt traffic, while options such as the
Tor Internet browser help ensure hackers don’t know where you’re located.
Know Your Audience
In the age of social media, mobile collaboration and always-on
connections, it’s easy to share too much with too many people. The result
is hackers could use your social media posts or unencrypted emails
to compromise accounts via brute force or by sending you “warning”
messages that demand immediate action but carry malware infections.
The rule here: Share sparingly. Don’t post personal details on social
media sites, and ensure you check all privacy settings to make sure
you’re not sending public updates. In addition, avoid opening any
emails from senders you don’t know.
Ask for Help
If you are compromised online, your best bet is to ask for help. The
longer you wait, the more time cybercriminals have to exploit your identity
and cause ongoing problems. First, leverage a reputable antivirus solution
to ensure your device isn’t carrying malware, then contact a digital
investigator to determine if stolen data can be recovered and whether
details about your attacker can be discovered.