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Privacy checkup: 5 simple ways to protect yourself in just a few minutes

Cybersecurity may seem unnecessary for the average gadget owner, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually important for everyone, and ignoring or downplaying the importance of online security can be a path to disaster.

We see cybersecurity mishaps every day, from phishing messages to full-blown data breaches, and casual users are in just as much danger as the always-connected hard-hitters.

It often comes down to cybersecurity basics. Millions of people have had their login credentials stolen and sold on the Dark Web simply because their passwords were too weak. Tap or click to find out what happened to these stolen accounts.

That’s why you should protect yourself by regularly performing basic cybersecurity checkups on all of your accounts and devices. No matter how perfect your security strategy may seem, actively ignoring it is just asking for hackers to come knocking. But you can stay safe with these simple tricks.

Don’t skimp on updates

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Frequent updates are the bread and butter of strong cybersecurity. The software developers behind your favorite devices and services are constantly checking the back-ends of their products for flaws and security holes.

When issues are found, updates are released to address the problems. Ignoring or waiting to update can give hackers the upper hand. Remember, hackers are constantly poking around behind the scenes for vulnerable code to exploit. Don’t give them a chance to wreck your life.

To check if your devices are up to date, make a list of every gadget you own and operate on a regular basis. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Smartphones
  • Tablets
  • Laptops & desktop computers
  • Routers
  • Security cameras and other smart home tech
  • Smart TVs
  • Smart toys and games
  • Video game consoles

In addition to these, make a list of your most frequently used apps and online accounts, as well as your login information. These might include:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Google
  • Amazon

Now that you’ve got your lists, it’s time to check if updates are available.

For your hardware, confirm which operating system you’re using. This will determine how you can update your device.

iPhone – Open the Settings app and select General. Then, choose Software Update and follow the onscreen instructions if an iOS update is available.

Android – Open the Settings app and select About Phone. Then, tap Check for Updates and install any that are available.

Windows – For Windows 10, click on the Windows icon in the bottom left of the screen and click the Gear icon for Settings. Then, click Update & Security. If an update is available, you’ll see an option to download and install.

Mac – Click the Apple icon on the menu bar in the top left of the screen and select System Preferences. Then, choose Software Update. If an update is available, you’ll have the option to update by clicking Update Now.

Other devices like game consoles and routers will usually have their respective updates somewhere in the Settings menu. Tap or click to see how to update and secure your router. If you’re not sure how to reach the settings, refer to their manuals. If you lost the manuals, tap or click here to find them online.

While you’re at it, make sure automatic updates are set up if the option appears. Not every device or software offers this feature, but it’s wise to enable so your gadgets stay safe.

As for your apps and services, make sure to check each app in the App Store or Google Play to see if an update is available. If it’s an option, it’s also a good idea to set up two-factor authentication for your accounts to protect your logins. Tap or click here to see how to enable 2FA for all of your favorite internet services.

Sharing isn’t always caring

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By default, our devices are enabled to share content with other users around us. But doing so can put you in harm’s way — especially over public connections.

To see what you’re connected to, open the settings apps of your devices and look at Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options. Under Wi-Fi, if you’re connected, make sure it’s to a private network you trust. Also, enable any Ask to join networks options so you’re not automatically connecting to public networks without your knowledge.

For Bluetooth, verify the devices listed are all frequently used by you. Anything that doesn’t belong should be removed or deleted from the list, like those old headphones you gave away.

If you’re an iPhone owner, you should also limit who’s able to send you files via AirDrop, or consider disabling the feature altogether. Open Settings, followed by General and select AirDrop. Turn Receiving Off or to Contacts Only, depending on your preference.

For those with Samsung Galaxy phones, you might be familiar with the Direct Share menu. This lets you share files with your contacts, but an accidental press can send files where they don’t belong. To disable it, open Settings and type Direct Share in the search field. Tap on Direct Share when it appears and toggle it off.

In fact, if you’re not actively using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, simply turn them off when you’re out and about. You can re-enable them when you’re no longer in public places.

On an iPhone X or higher, swipe down from the upper right-hand corner of the screen and tap on the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth icons to disable them. If you’re on an older phone with a home button, you’ll swipe up from the bottom of the screen for these options. Do the same to turn them back on when you’re ready.

On Android, swipe down from the top of the screen two times to open the Quick Settings panel. Alternatively, you can swipe down using two fingers. Tap the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth icons to disable them, and tap them again to re-enable.

Learn what they know about you

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This one is less device-focused and has more to do with your account privacy. Each social network and internet service collects data from you and, depending on what you’ve shared with them, your entire life may be online and up for grabs.

This is how businesses like data brokers and people search websites function. By scraping social media, they’ll build your profile and sell it to anyone with enough coin — from private investigators to clandestine stalkers.

Thankfully, each of these platforms have unique ways for “participants” to opt out. Tap or click here to see how to remove yourself from these websites.

It may also be worth looking deeper into your accounts and removing as much personal data as you can. You never know how much a company knows about you until you start deleting information. For example, Google knows who you are and where you go online. Tap or click to delete what Google knows about you.

If you don’t really use your social networks anymore, it’s a good idea to just delete them altogether. Tap or click to learn how to delete your social media accounts and change your privacy settings.

But what do you do if you can’t remember every site you’ve signed up for? This might seem like a blind spot at first, but thankfully, there are apps and services out there that can hunt down old accounts you’re not using and delete them for you. Tap or click to see an account deletion app that Kim trusts.

Keep tabs on your payment info

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Of all your private data, your finances are some of the most vulnerable. They’re holy grails for hackers, and some of the first things they’ll target if they come after your accounts.

Because of this, you’ll want to use 2FA on your most important accounts with saved payment information. When it’s enabled, you’ll be required to authenticate yourself every time you log in from a new location or browser. This will protect you from unauthorized logins. Tap or click here to find out how.

If you use Apple products or services, your Apple ID is a major account with financial connections that you’ll want to secure. Since you use it on devices like an Apple TV, hackers could use your account to make fraudulent purchases in your name.

Setting up 2FA for your Apple ID will force anyone attempting to log in to verify themselves — no matter what device they’re using. Follow this guide from Apple Support to set up 2FA for your Apple ID.

Additionally, you should consider using a more secure payment service like PayPal when making online transactions. PayPal acts as a middleman between your financial institution and the merchant you’re paying. This adds a layer of protection, and PayPal encrypts the transaction to boot.

For Apple users, you get an additional secure payment method. Apple Pay uses your phone for encryption, and uses a one-time code for each transaction.

This means the merchant you pay never even sees your payment information, which can keep you safe from hijacked websites and spyware. Tap or click here to see everything you can do with Apple Pay.

RELATED: Tap or click here to find the safest ways to pay online.

Clear your payment data from Google

In the past, you may have already made payments using your web browser. If you use Chrome, it might have saved your card number and login information to complete online purchases more quickly. This can be dangerous if your browser gets hijacked.

To block websites from accessing payment information from Chrome, follow these steps:

  1. Open Chrome Web Browser select the three dots on the upper right portion of the browser menu.
  2. Select Settings.
  3. Choose Advanced from the side menu.
  4. Select Privacy and security from the side menu. 
  5. In the first section, toggle Allow sites to check if you have payment methods saved Off.

You can also visit Google’s payment methods menu and delete any information you no longer want to keep. This is useful if you rely on Google (as most of us do,) but don’t use Chrome as your browser.

Bonus: Are you too chicken to share your data?

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Now that you’ve brushed up on good privacy and security practices, you might think you’re safe. But good cybersecurity habits go much deeper than checking your settings every so often. If you’re knowledgeable, you’ll instinctively know what data is worth sharing and what should be kept private.

To test your sharing limits, The New York Times put together this hilarious interactive privacy quiz. At each level, you’ll be asked to share more and more data with the game. How far are you willing to go? Do you know what’s safe to share and where to stop? Tap or click here to go head-to-head with Privacy Chicken.

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