Securing your computer is one of the most effective ways to reduce your chances of being hacked or scammed online. Here are some of the best practices for securing your computer, accounts, and online interactions:
Use different passwords for different accounts: A hacker or scammer can do a lot more damage if they have access to a password that also gives them the keys to all of your online accounts. While it can be confusing to keep creating new passwords for new accounts, it is one of the most effective actions you can take to stay safe online. To keep on top of your different passwords, a printed or handwritten list can be a good system; your passwords are relatively secure even when they are printed, as hackers or scammers are more likely to attack your accounts from afar than from within your own house. If you want a more advanced solution than keeping a list, password managers are the gold standard. 1Password7 and LastPass are two password managers that come highly recommended. And if your account is hacked,be sure to change your passwords for the account and for any other accounts that share the same password.
Authenticate: Authenticating means proving that you are who you say you are when you interact online. The most common form of authentication is two-factor authentication (2FA), which sends a confirmation to your approved email or cell phone before letting you log on to a website. If checking your email or phone before logging into a new account is within your technical abilities, authentication is an important precaution you can take to stay safe.
Think before you click: Everything your parents told you about what not to do with strangers also applies online. If a stranger sends you a link and you’re confused about its purpose, don’t click it. If a person you know sends you a link that is out of context or seems unlike something they would say to you, don’t click it (you can also reach out to them directly and ask if they sent you anything recently). If people ask you to send them money but you’ve never met them in person and you don’t know them through a business relationship, don’t send the money. Identity is much easier to fake online than off, so staying aware of the context of the message or link is crucial.
Only buy on secure websites: Most websites begin with http://, though increasingly some begin with https://. The “s” in https stands for “secure,” and that’s because https uses more secure technology to send your information. If you’re planning to enter your payment details into a website, confirm that it is an https:// site before providing your information. If the site is not secure but you still want to send money, give the business or person a call and see what other options you have.
Log out of public computers: Using computers in a library, computer lab, or community center is very common. These public computers are great resources, but since many people use them, it’s important to be extra secure. Make sure to always log out of your accounts after using a public computer and, if possible, wipe your browser history.
Report abuse immediately: If your account has been hacked or you realize you have been scammed, it’s very important to report what happened. While there are lots of best practices for reporting, make sure to reach out to any company involved in the scam, including platform where your account was compromised, your credit card company and/or bank (if you lost money in the hack or scam), as well as relevant government agencies like the FBI and FTC. And remember, if the hack or scam occurred on an account whose password is shared with other accounts, change the password!
- The Federal Trade Commission has guides and videos about various aspects of online safety: www.onguardonline.gov
- Seniors Guide to Online Safety: http://www.connectsafely.org/seniors/
- National Cyber Security Alliance: www.staysafeonline.org