We are all spending a lot more time online these days, whether it's helping our children learn, binge watching the latest hit on Netflix, or working remotely ourselves. Unfortunately, cyber criminals are online too, and they're taking advantage of how we use the web. There are multiple ways criminals can access your personal information, from email scams to hacking your home router. That's why it's important to take online home security seriously. Follow these guidelines to keep your home safe.
1. Understand that nothing is private anymore
How many times have you agreed to a website collecting cookies or other information? And how often have you read all of the fine print in those disclaimers? Our information simply isn't private anymore, and it's time to stop acting like it is. Even if you clean out your internet cache and cookies regularly, even if you choose private browsing, don't expect your information to remain sacred. Websites track not only your IP address, but any information you have stored that is automatically filled in for you (like your mailing address when you order something online and etc.), cookies from other websites, and more (learn more here).
2. Use strong passwords and update them regularly
Too many of us use a password that someone could guess. Your middle name, your mom's middle name, the street you grew up on, etc. are all commonly used. Use something with symbols and numbers or use a phrase rather than a single world, such as catssdonteatpineapples or elvesarealwaysdancing. You want to create a password others won't guess and using information that can't be found on the internet. Having the same password for all of your accounts is also a risky idea. While it might be fine if the email account you send all of the spam to is hacked, if the email account you use for your online banking, Amazon, Hulu, and etc. is hacked, you're going to be in big trouble. If you have trouble remembering multiple passwords, use a password manager. Make sure you update your passwords regularly. Adding another number to the end doesn't count!
3. Use two factor authentication
For banking and other important accounts and devices, use two factor authentication when possible. This means that you'll have to enter a password to login and then something else before you can access your account. A code may be sent to your email or cell phone or you could have an app installed on your phone that displays a code you need to fully log in. This extra step provides another layer of security and is worth the time. Two factor authentication is becoming more and more common, so check under settings for your accounts to see if this option exists. Learn more about how two step authentication works and what websites have this option here.
4. Check your privacy settings
Some websites will actually let you change the privacy settings, including asking not to be tracked and not sending information to other websites. While it's important to keep point number one in mind, nothing is truly private on the internet anymore, you still have some control. You should regularly check and potentially update your privacy settings on Facebook, Instagram, and other websites and your browser.
5. Be extra cautious when using social networks
Social media sites like Facebook are a gold mine for cyber criminals. They can easily create an online identity, contact you, and trick you into thinking they're a long lost friend from pre-school. Social media is also a great place for sharing misinformation and scams, with no real checks on facts and authenticity. A friend could send you a message with a great news about some money you're eligible for from a company that actually exists, but this is just sophisticated scammers after your information (learn how to spot Facebook Messenger scams here). You could be directed to a website for a product you just have to have, the website isn't secure, and your credit card information was just stolen. Your own profile is a great place for criminals to gain important information, information that is often used to reset a password, such as where you went to high-school. If you post you're away for the weekend or going on vacation, you're sharing information criminals love to know about online.
6. Update your software.
All of those notifications about needing a new update are so annoying, right? Unfortunately, ignoring software updates leaves you vulnerable. Software updates fix bugs, protect your data, and address the latest security concerns. Make sure you're regularly checking for updates and installing them. Whether you turn automatic updates on or set yourself a personal reminder to check and allow updates every Sunday night, you want to make sure these updates aren't being ignored and you want to do them on all of the devices in your home. Don't forget the kids' cellphones.
7. Don't ignore your smart devices
If you have a smart home, you should know that it is another potential source of entry for hackers. Using strong passwords, updating software regularly, and unplugging any devices that aren't in use are good steps to keeping your home safe. Two factor authentication is also another good idea if your devices allow this. You may want to consider whether or not certain devices are worth the risk. For example, any device that has access to your alarm system, security cameras, or opening or closing doors in your home is worth reconsidering. Learn more about how easily the devices in your home can be infiltrated here.
8. Know who is using your wifi
Worried someone has hacked onto your wifi? There are apps that will tell you exactly how many phones, computers, and tablets are using your wifi. If you suspect something fishy, consider installing one on your device. You may also find that you have devices accessing wifi that you don't even use, in which case, it's time to log them out. Learn more about what apps can help you monitor wifi usage here. Remember, if you're using a strong wifi password like we recommended with point number two, chances are you'll need this app a lot less!
9. Backup any important data
We all know someone who lost something incredibly important right before a due date or deadline. Maybe it was your son's final paper for class or you lost all of the family photos from the past decade when a flash drive was corrupted. If you have valuable items, whether it's personal information, important projects for work, or items you just don't want to lose, and those items are stored digitally, you should store them in more than one place. Having backups and regularly adding to them will ensure you're not crying over lost videos or getting into an argument with your teenager who just spilled soda all over the computer while writing a 15 page essay.
10. Educate your household
If you're extra cautious on social media, you always remember to logout of websites after using them, you diligently change your password every six months, and you put in all of the effort and do all of the right things, your efforts could be for nothing if another member of your household isn't doing the same. All it takes is for your daughter or your husband to respond to that Facebook scam or click that pop-up from a suspicious website and your effort has been wasted. If everyone in your home isn't aware of the risks and taking cyber security seriously, then you have holes in your system.
P.S. If you have children or teenagers, you should spend extra time with them because they will likely be the weakest link. It is never too early to start teaching them about the importance of never sharing their personal information, not clicking on websites that pop up, to never share their passwords, and to log out of websites and devices when they're finished. Kids are often the target of ID scams because they have perfect credit. Learn more here.
Last but not least, remember that home security and cyber security in general is always changing! As home security evolves, so do criminals. Cyber security is a moving target and it's up to you to stay current on threats and risks. There are scams on TikTok and scams on WhatsApp. You should be aware of what criminals are trying to do and how they are taking advantage of us. You should know what apps and websites your kids and teenagers are using. Children make great targets and criminals know this, but your know-it-all teenager may not. Work with your family to stay current on threats and talk honestly about phone and wifi usage.