Cybersecurity

8 Simple Ways to Minimize Online Risk

8 Simple Ways to Minimize Online Risk
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As more of our lives and business is conducted online, the risk of having our information compromised or used against us increases proportionately.

Strengthening online security doesn't mean lowering your risk to zero, but you can plug the main gaps to reduce the largest potential issues. Here are eight simple tips that can help anyone minimize their risks.

1. Change social media settings

Posting photos on Facebook while out of town may seem harmless, but it’s a big sign that your house or your family is alone while you are away. Make sure you change your privacy settings so that not everyone can see your posts. Ideally, restrict it so only your friends or direct connections can see. Even better, don’t post those photos until you return from the trip.

Related: Expert Advice: How to Up Your Cyber Security

2. Use a VPN

VPN stands for “virtual private network,” which is just a fancy way of saying “protect my profile when I’m online.” With free wi-fi in coffee shops, hotels and airports, more and more hackers are using simple “man in the middle” attacks to trick people into logging onto their fake networks. From there, it’s easy for them to steal your information.

Using VPN services such as NordVPN (where I work) keeps you safe from these hackers when out and about, masking your online presence. Bonus: using VPN from your home keeps you anonymous as well.

3. Know the risks of using cloud services

Online "cloud" services have brought a lot of convenience. Cloud services are simply those that allow you to access or share information online from anywhere and not just one computer. A perfect example is Google Docs vs. the traditional Microsoft Office.

While the convenience is obvious, less obvious are the security risks that come from having all your information in the cloud. Even the largest cloud providers are hacked on a regular basis.

The rule of thumb is to never put something on the cloud that you wouldn’t mind being stolen. Remember that popular file sharing services such as Dropbox come with their risks as well -- a Dropbox link is unsecured and can be accessed by anyone.

4. Read the fine print

Whenever you sign up for online services, you likely have had to scroll through a few pages of legal disclaimers. Included in the fine print might be important statements about how that company can use your information. Make sure to understand if your data can be provided to third parties for marketing purposes. If there are options to opt out, note what those are. If the privacy or terms of use policies are unacceptable to you, don’t sign up.

Related: What Startups Need to Do to Be Cyber Secure in 2015

5. Smart password practices

It goes without saying that your online passwords should never be “password,” “abc123,” “admin” or anything easily guessed. If you use one password for all your online services, should a hacker breach one of your accounts, he could easily take down all of your accounts. That means your email, online bank accounts, mileage points … everything.

Minimize this risk by using different passwords for different services and changing them every six months. It might seem like a hassle, but it’s less of a hassle than having your bank account breached.

6. Use secured websites

Most web browsers such as Google Chrome will show a green icon in the URL address bar whenever you are on a website that is secured. Another indicator of security is if the website address starts with “https” vs.“http.” That little addition of the “s” means the site you are on is secured and safe to use. If you are shopping online or doing anything that requires you to provide sensitive data, make sure the website address starts with https.

7. Bypass phishing attacks

Scammers often will use emails that look like legitimate companies in the hopes of tricking you into clicking on links and providing them your password, social security number and more. These are called “phishing” attacks. The best way to avoid this is to simply bypass the email and go directly to the website by opening a browser. For example, if a bank sent you an email, don’t click on the link in the email. Instead, open a web browser and go to the bank’s website directly.

8. Don’t forget anti-malware software

Almost everyone is familiar with antivirus software. Less common is “anti-malware” software. Many anti-virus software includes the ability to scan and prevent malware, but not all of them. To be safe, supplement your existing antivirus software with quality anti-malware software such as Malwarebytes. Remember to always keep your security software up to date with the latest versions.

Related: Sometimes Hackers Just Want to Embarrass You