We call the age we live in right now the information age, and for good reason. Never before has the entirety of human knowledge has been accessed at just the press of a button. What used to take up several bookshelves worth of space can now fit in your pocket in the form of a smartphone connected to the internet.
In short, information is valuable, and always has been. But are you aware of just how much of your information is out there on the internet, and just how valuable it could be with the right person? Even seemingly innocuous details could end up being used against you or taken bit by bit to make a composite image of who you are, what you like, what your spending habits and others. Hackers know this, that your identity is worth a high premium to a wide array of people, both in the legal and not so legal side of the spectrum.
So how do you stay insulated from identity theft online? Well, there’s a few simple ways that will get you pretty far.
Use strong, hard to guess passwords
Remember what I said about hackers being able to sniff out small details about you bit by bit? Lots of people go for common passwords like their wife’s birthday or even just “password123”. By making your password long and difficult to guess, hackers are much more likely to move on to easier targets once they realize the amount of time and resources they’ll have to dedicate to breaching your accounts.
It’s also recommended that you switch up passwords between different services, often people just use one password for everything and all I takes is a breach on the least protected site for all of your other accounts to come crashing down.
Use a virtual private network
A Virtual Private Network, or VPN, is a great way to obfuscate your data from anybody who might be trying to take a look behind the curtains. While there are free VPNs, you don’t know what they do with the data you funnel through them so for some of them, it is the same deal as handing off the keys to your house to a stranger and expecting them to never pop by.
How a VPN work is that typically your computer communicates directly between the servers you’re accessing and back in an unencrypted fashion. With a VPN, your communications to and from the internet pass through an encrypted system that gives and takes data piecemeal before giving them all to you, making it kind of like using an extremely advanced document shredder, just for online data as opposed to physical. VPNs are some of the most foolproof ways to keep hackers out of your system, so it’s worth spending money on a trustworthy VPN.
Avoid phishing scams
Truthfully, the picture of a hacker being someone hunched over their computer hastily typing in lines of code to brute-force their way into your life isn’t reality. Most people give up their sensitive data without even realizing it by falling for common phishing scams on the internet or through email. In a phishing scam, an email is sent with a link to a common provider like a bank or telephone company, usually saying that there is a charge they need to review or something they need to confirm.
Urgency often plays a part in these emails, such as a threat of closing down the bank account if they don’t follow the link and do what has to be done. Once they click the link, they’re brought to a 1:1 perfect imitation of the website they’re used to visiting and then they willingly enter their login credentials to that site.
The site is controlled by hackers who now take that information and simply go to the real site with it and login as if they are the rightful owner of the account. It is insidious and excessively simple, so make sure not to trust any fishy sounding emails and make sure to type in websites yourself as opposed to clicking links found on webpages or inside emails.
The simplest online protection measures often go the furthest when it comes to protecting your identity from online thieves. It is actually extremely difficult to force your way into a website or network, most of the information hackers receive is just out there ready for the taking because people practice poor webiquette.
If you keep a clean house with the links you follow and how you use/store your passwords and use a VPN on top of that, you’re more or less ironclad from 99% of online attacks.