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6 Smart Ways to Protect Your Data, Your Devices, and Your Digital Identity.

The data breach at credit reporting agency in 2017affected nearly 148 million US consumers, giving hackers access to Social Security numbers, names, credit card numbers, and partial drivers’ license numbers. This information can be used by identity thieves to destroy your credit, file fake tax returns and collect the funds and also hijack your medical data.

But it is not only identity theftwe need to worry about. It is important that you protect your personally identifiable information (PII) all year round as criminals harvest personal details to access banking websites, launch sophisticated phishing and spear-phishing campaigns and hack loyalty programs.

You can greatly minimize these risks by changing some habits and spending a few hours improving your online security.Here are 6 simple ways to protect your all-important personal information.

  • Protect everything-Use strong passwords, employ two-factor authentication, and consider an all-in-one password manager.

All your digital devices should be password protected. That includes your computers, smartphones, tablets and other gadgets that have personal data on them. The same advice applies to all your online accounts.  Creating strong passwordsand never using the same password for more than one site is the most important thing you can do to protect your online identity. Also, change them often and never save them on your device.

Secure password generatorsincluded in many all-in-one password management solutions can help you create long complicated passwords and also remember them for you.

You should turn on two-factor authenticationfor any site that supports it. This requires you to enter your password and then verify your identity by entering the unique passcode that you receive via text message or email. This means your account has a second layer of protection and protects your account even if a hacker does get your password. The security questions designed to help you recover a lost password is not very secure because some of them are very easy for hackers to find out. It is recommended that you makeup answersinstead and keep that information in your password manager.

You should also change the default passwords for anything that is connected to your home network. Your router is an important device as it could give a hacker complete access to your home network. You should also not forget about the other connected devices like baby monitors.

  • Keep your computer virus-free

Digital security has much to do with digital privacy. If your computer is affected by malware or virus, hackers can dig through your data to steal youridentity. They can also lock up your files to ask for a ransom to get them back. The solution is to install the latest antivirus software not only on your computer but on your mobile devices as well. There are a lot of freeas well as paid versions available from trusted companies like Webroot, Kaspersky’s and Norton.

  • Be wary of Public Wi-Fi connections.

It is no doubt free Wi-Fi makes traveling easier. But you must be careful how you use it as there is no telling who is watching that internet traffic. So before joining a network confirm the name and password with the staff of the coffee shop or library. You should take extra security measures when you log into an account as even a password-protected Wi-Fiis only safe as the people who have the password. If you must log in or transact online on public Wi-Fi you should use a VPN(virtual private network) serviceto encrypt all the data you send so that others on the same network cannot easily see what you are doing.

In addition, you should force your browser to use HTTPS. This can be done through an extension like HTTPS Everywhere. Finally, you should make sure you log off services you were signed into after concluding yoursession and ask your device to forget the Wi-Fi network.

  • Be careful about opening suspicious emails, clicking links, annoying pop-ups, and “too good to be true” ads or offers

Majority of people are connected in some way or the other to the Internet and social media and so we need to know the basics of security awareness.  You should use caution if you receive an email from someone you do not recognize with a request to click a link or take urgent action. Familiarize yourself with tell-tale signs of phishing scamslike spelling errors in the body copy, a vague salutation that does not include your name, and URLs or email addresses in the message that are not quite in line with the company they are supposed to be associated with. You should mark it as spam or delete it immediately.

If you receive an email from your credit card issuer, financial institution, or utility provider, remember that they are instructed not to ask for any sensitive information like Social Security numbers or passwords.

If annoying pop-upsappear on your screen, do not click on any flashy ads or viral looking headlines. You should just safely close the window by clicking the X in the corner.

  • Monitor your credit reports and financial activity.

You should scan your credit reportsfor an abnormal activity like accounts or credit cards that you did not open along with any unexpected credit checks. You can also put fraud alerts, freezes or locks in place with all the three credit bureaus-Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Also, you should review your bank and credit card statementsdaily for suspicious transactions.

  • Back up ALL your data on a regular basis.

Whenever a new ransomware attack occurs, victims realize that they could have protected themselves beforehand by just creating automatic backups of all data. For comprehensive protection, your data should backed-up, encrypted and stored by a trusted IT provider who can ensure that your critical information is stored safely in different data centers. This way, if a hacker did gain access to your network or computer you can easily clean your machines and then restore them again.

You may feel powerless against cybercrime as no protection method is 100% full proof. Buttaking steps like these and educating yourself on the latest security tricks and tactics can keep your information safe and protect you against fraud.