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Worried about being hacked? Use these five strategies for digital protection

Your personal information is at risk from hackers and phishing scams, unless you take steps to improve your password security. Here are some tips to help safeguard your digital world

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 April, 2017, 12:31pm

How vulnerable is simple, personal information on your computer or mobile phone?

The brutal reality: very vulnerable – potentially. Here’s how to safely navigate online.

Password management

It’s no surprise that changing your password has always been a basic form of protection. But what we pick as passwords and how we manage them are important, says Murat Kantarcioglu, professor and director at the Data Security and Privacy Lab at the University of Texas at Dallas.

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Passwords should never include your personal information. So stay away from names and birth dates. Ideally, passwords are a combination of lower case and upper case letters and random characters.

“You want a very strong, long password. It doesn’t have any personal information,” says Kantarcioglu.

It can be harder to remember, but that’s why password managers are good to use for some websites. Kantarcioglu does not recommend using password manager apps for sites that have sensitive information. For health care and financial sites, it’s best to work that memory to remember them without keeping them in a manager.

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View e-mails with a sceptical eye

Deceptive phishing is one of the most common types of scams. Kantarcioglu says it’s best to view all emails with care. Hackers can make emails look like legitimate company emails and lure readers to click on dangerous links. You could end up introducing a virus to your computer or inadvertently giving sensitive information to the wrong people.

It’s best to search the original source of the information and try to find the direct link from the site instead of using the link provided in the email. Or look for the company phone number and call directly to ask about the email.

Embrace two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication adds a second level of security to an account. If there’s an option for your email, banking site or social media site to use two-factor authentication, go ahead and do it. It’s a security option that requires a password as well as an additional piece of information only the user would have on them. Sometimes it’s a code sent to your phone that has to be entered following a password.

“A hacker has to have your password and mobile device, so it becomes much harder,” says Kantarcioglu.

Updated apps and operating systems are a must

Too often, users are reluctant to update their mobile devices. But Kantarcioglu says that while these updates may appear to have only aesthetic changes, they often come with security improvements.

“There may be a bug that is exploited. Those bugs are discovered by mobile providers or Apple, so it’s a good idea to upgrade them,” he says.

Beware of public charging stations and Wi-fi

Charging stations and Wi-fi are a convenience provided by public entities, such as festivals and airports. But they can come with risks.

“Sometimes those chargers may be hooked to another compromised device,” says Kantarcioglu. “If you go to a website Wi-fi, and then it asks for you to download something, I wouldn’t do that.”