How do I protect my online accounts is a question we see often. It usually ends up as one of those tasks on our lists of things we'll eventually complete. I admit, I've got several accounts that go against the suggestions I'll use below. After writing this article, I'm going to make it a point to review my account security and take actions where necessary.
Here's a list of topics we'll cover in this article to protect online accounts:
- Use Strong Passwords
- Use 2 Factor Authentication when available
- Lock down your WiFi
- Don't Do Quizzes On Social Media
- Use a VPN if you're on public WiFi
Use Strong Passwords
I can't iterate enough to use strong passwords. Several years ago a password like [email protected]$$w0rd001! was pretty safe to use and easy to remember. When it was time to change your password, you could simply update to [email protected]$$w0rd002!. However, with advanced hacking techniques, that method is no longer safe.
The top tips for creating a strong password are:
- Never use a dictionary word, even when encrypted as in my example above
- Use 12-14 characters minimum (the more the better)
- Use numbers, letter, uppercase, lowercase, and symbols
Strong passwords are really the first lines of defense you can use in protecting your online accounts and identity. It's extremely crucial that you protect your main email address. This email address may already be publicly posted. Hackers can then watch your social media accounts to start guessing your passwords. If they get your email address password, they can literally take over every account tied to that email address by going to each account and clicking the Forgot Password link. The Reset Password link will then be sent to your email, which the hacker has access to, and reset your passwords, phone numbers, contact information, etc. Get more information from our article about creating strong passwords.
Use 2 Factor Authentication When Available
Some sites, like banking sites, allow for 2 factor authentication. With this feature enabled and when you login to certain sites. They send an authentication code to your mobile phone via text or email. I always choose text as my option when given the choice. I feel safer receiving the code via text instead of email, although phones are sometimes hacked. Email is not easy to hack, but probably easier to hack than a phone or text messages.
The sites that allow 2 Factor Authentication will not allow in an intruder even if they have your password. It's a better means to verify it's really you attempting to login. There have been a number of big data breaches in the recent past where passwords were exposed to the hackers. Hackers will sometimes attempt to sell this information on the dark web, or use it themselves to gain further access to more of your data.
Lock down your home or office WiFi
Changing the default login and password settings on your router is always recommended. This is not your WiFi password, this the login and password you use to manage your wireless router. With WiFi showing no signs of slowing down in popularity, securing your WiFi network is essential in making sure your devices and account data on your network stay safe and out of the eyes and hands of others. New WiFi routers are forcing users to create strong WiFi passwords and Internet Service Provider WiFi routers are also enforcing strong WiFi passwords.
Yes, it's a real pain when a friend comes over and needs access to your WiFi and you have to pull out a sheet of paper to show them how to login, but can you imagine what might be happening on your network if your WiFi password were easily guessed. The user can change these passwords to something easier, although not recommended. If you're in a remote location away from neighbors and public roadways, you can probably get away with an simple WiFi password. But if you're on vacation and someone pulls into your driveway, having an easy password makes your WiFi vulnerable.
Don't Do Quizzes Or Challenges On Social Media
Be very careful with what you post on social media and stay away from the quizzes. A recent Seniors Challenge asks everyone to post their high school senior pic with the year and school from which they graduated. Hackers can scan public data on social media and see now what school you graduated from and the year. They can also look up the mascot. Why does this matter? Remember the security questions you set with your bank for verification can sometimes include your high school mascot, or the year in which you graduated. An innocent little post to show the support for the Class of 2020, possibly used against you.
If you wish to partake, perhaps post your senior pic, but not the year and not the school. Your school choices in your profile can sometimes be revealed to the public unless you lock those down via your Facebook Privacy Settings. Quizzes ask personal questions. Where do those answers go? Anyone can create quizzes on Facebook. It's best to avoid them. Besides, who cares what kind of potato you are. : )
Use a VPN if you're on public WiFi
What is a VPN?. A VPN allows you to encrypt your data from your connection device to the final connection point. There are network listening devices that can watch and see your traffic. If you have encrypted traffic via a VPN, it's less likely a leak happens. Anyone in a cafe on the free WiFi can be viewing the traffic as they sip their latte. Use a VPN to keep your data safe. Also only login to sites with an SSL encryption certificate if you decide not to use a VPN while on free WiFi. The SSL encryption ensures encrypted login data and unlikely exposed. Keep in mind that VPN providers can still see your data so choose a VPN based on reputation and trust. A VPN does not eliminate the need to secure your WiFi password or other account passwords.
This list is definitely not conclusive of the things you can do to protect your accounts online. If you feel important financial account information has been leaked or hacked, you can freeze your credit profile in the US to prevent unauthorized accounts from being open. Stay diligent and stay safe, but more importantly protect you accounts online.