In the age of drive-by downloads, ransomware, data breaches, rampant identity theft and millions of other digital threats, good online security is critical. Unfortunately, with attacks coming at you from every direction, it can sometimes feel like it's impossible to keep up.
However, it is possible to reduce the number of threats to a manageable level. It just takes developing some good security habits. None of these tasks is particularly difficult, but you need to do them regularly or they won't become a true habit. So keep reading to find out what you can start doing now to make your online experience safer.
1. Use security software
The most important habit for good online security is to use strong security software. Good security software stops most attacks before they can even start, but great security software goes beyond that with other features that keep you safe.
Of course, while great security software will protect you against most threats, there are still some things you can do to help out.
2. Pause before you click
One of the biggest threats out there is phishing scams. These are deceptive emails and text messages that trick you into clicking on a link to a malicious site or downloading malicious attachments.
There are many phishing scam tactics, but they all rely on you clicking before you have a chance to really think things through. A phishing scam might say there's a problem with your Amazon account and you need to click fast to clear it up. Or maybe it says you can win a free iPad if you sign up immediately.
Taking a second to think is usually enough time to unravel the scam. You might notice a fishy email address or horrible spelling and grammar, or just remember our advice to never click on links in unsolicited emails.
That's why you should make a habit of waiting a second or two before clicking any link. Use that second to confirm that nothing is out of the ordinary. And if you click the link and are presented with something else to click, take another second to really look at that as well.
While this will add a few seconds to each email, it's worth it when you easily avoid the next phishing email to roll around. Learn more about spotting and avoiding phishing emails.
3. Use the safest account
Pausing before clicking isn't just for phishing emails either. If you're using a standard account in Windows, it will ask for permission before installing any program. You might get in the habit of just clicking "OK" to get rid of the message, but pause and make sure you know what it's trying to install. Otherwise, you might agree to install a virus or other malicious download, without realizing it.
That's with a standard account, though. Many people have the habit of using whatever account their computer has set up when they get it. Often this is an administrator account. While using an administrator account is convenient (i.e. fewer pop-ups asking for permission to do things), it's also much less safe.
With an administrator account, malicious programs can install or change settings without your permission. In fact, studies show that switching to a standard account can cut your risk from online threats by 86 percent. Find out how to switch over to a Standard account and make sure you always use one in the future.
4. Create strong passwords and security questions
Securing your online accounts is just as important as securing your Windows account. The first step is to have a strong password and security question.
When you're creating an online account, you might be in the habit of rushing to get through the process so you can start using the site. That's why many people use weak passwords like "password" or "123456," or reuse passwords from other accounts.
Both of these make you unsafe. Hackers can get through an easy password in minutes. If you reuse passwords and they get your password in a data breach then they can get into all your accounts without a problem.
That's why you need to get into the habit of creating unique, complex passwords. These take more time to create, but they keep your information safe. Of course, you also need a good way to remember them. Here are 5 password mistakes that will likely get you hacked.
We recommend using a password manager. This can store all your passwords behind a single master password. That way you can have dozens of complex passwords and only have to remember one. Most password managers can also help you create strong passwords.
When you're setting up your online accounts, you also shouldn't rush past the security questions. Most security questions ask for common information that a hacker or snoop can guess if they do a bit of research or know you. That's why you need to create answers that no one can guess.
5. Turn on two-factor authentication
Whenever you create an account on a new website, or every few months when you visit an old website, you should get in the habit of taking a few minutes to look through the account settings. You can often find additional security features to turn on, such as two-factor authentication, that will make you safer.
Two-factor authentication means that if a hacker gets your password, they still won't be able to log in to your account without access to your phone. Here are 5 key steps to boost your safety online.