Make a resolution to clean up your digital act? Here’s how
Did you get hacked in 2017? Chances are you did, thanks to Equifax’s inability to protect the data of more than 143 million of its customers. As a result, you might be feeling frustrated, vulnerable, even angry—not exactly a positive way to ring in the new year.
If you want to channel those feelings into getting safer in 2018, follow these seven steps, garnered from how-tos we’ve published this year, to better secure your digital life.
Step 1: Use two-factor authentication.
In its most common form online, two-factor authentication makes you use a second, one-time password to access your account. That second password, often a four- or six-digit PIN, changes every time you log in.
You receive it as a text message, from a PIN-generating authenticator app that you must register with your account before using it or, for some accounts, as a keycode generated by a YubiKey or similar device.
Two-factor authentication, also called two-step verification, works on most of your most important online accounts, including Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Dropbox, and many financial institutions.
While two-factor is not hacker-proof, nothing is. And it makes cracking your password significantly more difficult. And if you want to level up your two-factor security, get a YubiKey (or similar hardware key), and learn how to use it too.
Step 2: Use a VPN.
In a time when metadata is used by governments to kill their adversaries, and Internet service providers are allowed to sell their customers’ Internet usage to the highest bidder, a good virtual private network goes a long way towards hiding your traffic from surveillance of all kinds. Consumer-grade VPNs that work on your Windows, Mac, Android, or iOS devices are effective and affordable.
We live in times when the average consumer is the target of many forms of surveillance. From banking sites to Facebook to just casual browsing, using a VPN will help hide your online behavior from prying eyes—no matter who’s targeting you.
Step 3: Improve your passwords, and use a password manager.
In general, you’ll want to use passwords that are easy for you to remember but hard for a machine to guess. A sentence of three to four random words, with spaces and easy-to-memorize grammar (such as periods, exclamation points, and capital letters) will make you safer than a string of 40 characters that you couldn’t remember if you were paid to. And don’t reuse them among multiple services!
For those of us (if not all of us) with password fatigue, password managers ranging from LastPass to Google’s Smart Lock will sync with your devices, and help log you in safely and quickly.
Step 4: Protect your Wi-Fi.
Hackers love to hack Wi-Fi, so why expose yourself to unnecessary risks? Make sure your home Wi-Fi router has been set up with WPA2, and create a guest network for your friends when they come to visit. If you can, segment your home Internet of Things devices on a separate network as well.
Step 5: Keep your software up-to-date.
Whether you’re using an iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, or Linux device, one of the easiest ways to avoid getting hacked is to ensure that all your software is up-to-date. That includes the operating system, the programs and apps that run on it, and the aforementioned Internet of Things.
Step 6: Secure your digital payments.
We’re at the beginning stages of the explosion of electronic payments for online and real-world purchases, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t risks you have to watch out for. Set up your phone with a passcode or other security measure, use two-factor authentication (there it is again!), and use only apps that have been verified as safe.
Step 7: Prepare your devices for secure international travel.
When you travel from one country to another, there’s a good chance you’re going to face border patrol. Many border guards have the legal right to make you unlock your devices so they can examine their contents. While that may sound scary, there are techniques you can use to avoid such deep scrutiny, such as using cloud backups to remove sensitive data before you travel, then restoring it at your destination.
There are no easy answers here, and you might need to change your approach, depending on whether you’re a journalist, activist, politician, executive, refugee, or just somebody concerned about retaining your personal digital privacy at the border.
Extra credit: Get familiar with your privacy rights.
Tech companies often have extensive privacy policies written in dense legalese, but that doesn’t mean you should do your due diligence about a new product before buying it. Do some online searches for privacy complaints regarding the technology you’re looking to use. Before you buy or start using, also think about the data that you’d enter into device or app—and whether you’re comfortable with associated companies using or selling it.