You might like to think of yourself as a person who practices thorough device security. After all, you have a few different passwords (because you keep forgetting your old ones), and all of them are at least eight characters long (because all accounts require that now).
In truth, there are dozens of other digital habits you are likely indulging in that make your device security embarrassingly weak. Even your army of eight-character passwords isn’t enough to keep you safe in these days of intense cyber threats. If you want to learn what you are doing wrong and fix it fast to keep your data safe, read on.
Your passwords are eight characters long and a mixture of lower-case letters, caps, symbols and numbers. You don’t write your passwords down, you don’t share them with others, and you have different codes for important accounts. What possibly could you be doing wrong?
As it turns out, even people who follow these well-established rules still don’t have particularly strong passwords. That’s because they rely on information that can easily be found online, like children’s names, addresses or birthdays, or they include common words found in dictionaries. This matters because hackers who brute-force their way into accounts — i.e. hackers who try to crack codes instead of finding them in breached data or using account backdoors — use software programmed to try common words and common variations, like substituting zeros for Os or fours for As.
Total randomness is the only way to protect your accounts from getting hacked, but humans aren’t particularly good at generating random codes. Instead, fake a random code by thinking of a memorable phrase and distilling it into numbers, letters and symbols. For instance, the exceedingly strong password “R2D2=mfavSWch!” is remembered by the phrase “R2D2 is my favorite Star Wars character!” As a bonus, you should make your codes at least 12 characters in length, which is way better than the outdated eight.
Stop clicking on links without thinking. While not all links are malicious — indeed, most links are quite safe — a good proportion of them will take you to phony websites or cause you to download corrupted documents and files. You should investigate any link you see before blindly clicking to make sure you don’t do something you can’t undo.
It’s good form to avoid any and all links that come to you through email. If you an emailed messages causes you alarm, perhaps claiming that your savings account has been emptied, you shouldn’t click any links in the message; instead, you should navigate to your bank’s website (or whatever website is applicable) using a different browser window.
For other links, like those contained in blogs, you should hover over the linked image or text and examine the destination URL, which should appear at the bottom left of your browser or just below your cursor. If the URL seems suspicious, skip the click and use a search engine to find the info you want.
Sometimes, links cause you to download malicious content. Sometimes, you download malicious content with your own power without realizing it. All around the web, you can find free and paid downloads for products like ebooks, applications and more — but not all download sources are trustworthy. Even emails sent directly to your inbox could contain malicious attachments.
Just as you should inspect links before clicking, you should consider downloads before downloading or opening. A max security antivirus tool can help you scan potential downloads for threats, but you should also read user reviews of websites before choosing to download anything, and you should look for signs that a download went wrong, like unfamiliar programs or settings on your device.
You’ve probably heard that you need to keep your security software up to date, but that’s not the only thing on your device you need to update regularly. In fact, any software installed on your device, including your operating system, should be allowed to automatically download and install updates.
Hackers don’t force their way into your device or network blindly as they do in the movies; most often, they know exactly how to waltz in unimpeded because they recognize exploits or vulnerabilities in certain software code. Fortunately, program developers tend to spot these problems too, so they create patches and release them as updates. If you don’t update your software, you are allowing your devices to remain exposed to attackers, who will take the opportunity to steal your data.
You don’t have to be perfect to avoid becoming the victim of a cyber attack, but you do have to modify your behavior somewhat. By paying attention to how you are navigating the web and arming your device with the right tools, you can avoid the worst threats.