Protecting Your Online Identity: Five Steps for Better Security

Identity theft is on the rise. As noted by the Insurance Information Institute, this year alone saw $16 billion stolen from more than 15 million U.S. consumers — that’s $2 million more than 2016. Why the uptick? As users shift to mobile devices and spend more time connected to Internet services, there’s growing opportunity for hackers. 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.

Improve Passwords

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” WiFi

As noted by Forbes, free WiFi 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 WiFi” or “Customer WiFi 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 WiFi. 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 potentially discover details about your attacker.

Online identity theft is growing. Protect yourself by using better passwords, opting out of free WiFi, obscuring your IP, avoiding social over-shares, and asking for help ASAP.