The holidays are here and information security is as important as ever. For many of us, that means lots of traveling and online shopping. Here are a few tips to keep in mind to protect yourself this season.
When shopping online, use caution when opening links from others. Don’t open messages from unfamiliar sources. If you receive a call from your financial institution, call the number listed on the back of your card – not the one left on your voicemail.
Be skeptical of pleas and solicitations for donations/assistance, as they may be fraudulent requests. If you’re considering giving, research the organization using a tool like https://www.charitynavigator.org.
Make sure the website is using SSL encryption to keep your data safe in transit. You can verify this by clicking the padlock icon next to the web address in your browser.
And be sure to use a credit card or safe third-party payment provider (like PayPal or Google Pay) instead of a debit/bank card. This helps protect you against fraudulent charges.
Avoid public devices and wi-fi
When traveling, free wi-fi can be convenient, but it isn’t very secure. Hackers can use public networks to access your device and personal information. If absolutely necessary, wi-fi provided by a business can be slightly more secure, but be sure to ask the appropriate staff for exact login procedures and use a VPN service. Otherwise, simply turn your mobile phone into a hotspot.
Don’t use publicly accessible computers at hotel business centers or the airport to make purchases or login to important accounts like your e-mail or banking site. Public computers are prime targets for stealing passwords and other sensitive data.
Also, use a portable battery or AC adapter to charge your phone instead of plugging your phone into an unfamiliar PC, as doing so could infect your phone or steal data.
Secure your devices
Keep track of your devices – such as your laptop, smartphone, USB drives, etc – at all times. And definitely don’t leave them unattended. Hands-free devices can be helpful, but you should disable Bluetooth on your phone when you’re not using them.
This time of year is also a perfect opportunity to make sure you have clean and updated systems. Check for viruses and malware by using your operating system’s built-in scanner (or use software like Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware). Update your operating system and installed software (such as web browsers, Java, Dropbox, etc) to their latest versions.
While you’re at it, go ahead and create a backup plan for your computer and data.
Secure your accounts
Speaking of updates, now is also a great time to update your account security. For each account, you should have a long and unique passphrase, which you can keep track of using a password database like KeePass or LastPass. Whenever possible, enable multi-factor authentication using the strongest tool available to receive a passcode (in order: Biometrics, YubiKey, authenticator app or SMS).
Also, it’s not a bad idea to lie on your security questions in case the answers to those have been learned through data mining (but make sure to keep track of your lies in your password database)!
Monitor your accounts
After you’ve updated the security to your accounts, keep monitoring them regularly for any suspicious activity. Enable notifications from your financial institutions to alert you of any new transactions. Check your credit score regularly. Reset your passwords immediately if you notice suspicious activity. If you notice fraudulent activity on your financial accounts or are the victim of identity theft, visit www.idtheft.gov for information on how to respond.