In continuing with last week’s safety theme, this week we’re going to discuss internet safety. There are a lot of things you can do when browsing online to make sure your information stays safe. So if you’re ready to put in some effort in maintaining a secure online presence, read on.

Part 1: Passwords

Passwords. The most basic form of security anyone online uses. They can be annoying to remember and difficult to keep track of, but are essential to keeping accounts safe. Here are some tips regarding password generation and usage:

  1. Pick a strong password. Really. Don’t use family members’ names or birthdays. Never use “password” or “123456” or any variation thereof. The best passwords mix upper and lowercase letters as well as symbols and numbers, and are usually at least 8 characters long. If possible, don’t capitalize the first letter and don’t end with a 1 or 2, as these are the most common patterns for people who try to create “difficult” passwords. Substitute numbers for letters and don’t be afraid to misspell words – that makes it harder for password hacking software to crack. If you can’t or don’t want to come up with a password, you can use a password generator.
  2. Pick a different password for each account, and get in the habit of changing them at least once a year. Don’t use the same password again once you’ve changed it for at least a year.
  3. Use a password manager. It’s hard to keep track of all your hard created passwords, so why not use a password manager to help out? LastPass, KeePass and 1Password are all equally great programs.
  4. Use two step authentication when possible. This requires a second step when logging into accounts on another computer, such as inputting a special code received from a code list or text message that the site sends you. Many websites, such as Facebook, Google and Dropbox all support two step authentication, so you might want to consider that in your password regimen.
  5. Don’t answer password hints honestly. A hacker could easily guess answers to your security questions and then gain access to your account. Select an answer that is entirely different than the question is asking, but something that you will remember.
  6. Delete and disconnect from services you don’t use. You can still get hacked even if you don’t use an app or web service anymore. Also another good reason to change passwords for each account you create online, so that if one gets hacked, the others aren’t at risk.

Part Two: Browser Security

So now you have your ironclad passwords. But what about all the other stuff you do online? Browsing sites and accumulating cookies always invites potential danger in, but here are some things you can do to help minimize that risk:

  1. Use HTTPS Everywhere. As mentioned in last week’s encryption advice, this extension for many browsers ensures that you are browsing a secure connection, which is especially important when entering in personal information or doing online shopping.
  2. Log out of your accounts. Especially on public computers. It might be tempting to leave them open if you’re coming back, but anyone who could steal your computer would then have access to your accounts.
  3. Use extensions that prevent data collection. Adblock Plus, Ghostery and Do Not Track Plus all prevent websites from collecting information from your browsing data. They’re also pretty nice at blocking annoying ads on websites.
  4. Consider the Tor browser or VPN services for a truly anonymous and/or secure browsing experience.

Part Three: Network Security

With you browser and passwords set, there’s one more source you need to lock down: your home network or public wi-fi.

  1. Change your router’s security settings. Change the password and name of your router, because the default ones are relatively easy to hack.
  2. Be wary of downloads, as many malware threats reside in unsuspecting files and software. If you “need” software to run something on a website, make sure to look at its credentials before downloading. And if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  3. Turn off home sharing when not at home. Sharing documents and files is convenient for letting your household access important things on your computer, but be sure to turn it off whenever you leave your abode.
  4. Don’t connect to wi-fi unless you need it. You want to monitor your usage over public wi-fi, so make sure it isn’t accidentally on and inviting in hackers.

So those are some tips for working online, whether you are at home or on the go. It’s never too late to start protecting your online presence. Even if you start by following one or two of these tips, you will be more proactive than many people out there!