January 28th will mark the 10th anniversary of the Data Protection Day, an initiative launched by the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to promote cyber-security. Here are some tips to protect yourself online…

Protect your computer and browser

This one is a no-brainer. If you are using a PC, make sure you’re using an up-to-date anti-virus or spyware program. Whether you have a Mac or a PC, always download the latest security patches to keep your operating system up-to-date.
Just as important is protecting the way you get onto the Internet. Make sure you have protected your home wireless network with a password and you have changed the default SSID (your network’s name). When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, think twice about what information you are sending over it; for added protection, you can use HotSpot Shield, a program that determines the safety of public networks. Find out more about how to make your wifi more secure here.

Set up different passwords for every online account

Of course it’s easier just to remember one password, but when has taking the easy route ever got you anywhere? When there is a large-scale password breech (remember the LinkedIn and Twitter hacks?), you can understand why having one password isn’t the smartest thing to do. If the password and email address that you use for one account falls in the hands of the wrong person, they can start trying it on other sites and services. So make sure you use different passwords on different sites.

You should also choose complex, hard-to-guess passwords. As is mandatory on most websites, it’s recommended to use a mix of upper- and lowercase letters and numbers. We tell you everything about strong password creation here. Finally, protect your phone with a password. Your smartphone is basically a mini-computer and can have as much or even more personal information on it than your laptop or desktop. Set up a strong password to protect your mobile device(s) and consider investing in a security software or app.

Guard your personal information

Nowadays, phishing scams pose one of the greatest threats to online security. Disguised as legitimate emails from a business, an organisation or even a government agency, such bogus emails are mostly used to obtain user names and passwords to online accounts. To avoid falling prey to a phishing scam, be vigilant to never respond to requests for personal or account information online (or over the phone). Watch out for convincing imitations of banks, card companies, charities and public institutions.

At this point, I’d like to add an extra warning: don’t reveal too much on social networks! We are often providing enough information via social media profiles for hackers to figure out our passwords or answer those questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your settings and don’t just friend everyone who connects with you.

Think before clicking links

Clicking links is second nature on the internet, but you should be careful before clicking those lines of text. Indeed, anybody can create a template that looks like a legitimate business site and include easy-to-click links and then access your computer or online accounts. So be vigilant about what links you click in an email, especially when they come from companies or an unknown sender. Also, don’t click on odd social media messages with links. If your friends want to share their latest holiday pics or deeply philosophical social comments, they’re not going to do it via a link.

Keep a close eye on your finances

Since the objective of many scams and hacks is to steal your money, you should monitor your bank and credit card accounts on a weekly basis. Also check your bank statements for any suspicious charges. A lot of banks nowadays allow you to sign up for alerts to be sent to your mobile phone or e-mail whenever there’s unusual activity happening on your account. Special internet credit/debit cards for online use only are another great way to limit the risks of shopping online.

Talking of shopping: If you buy something on the internet, make sure it’s from a legitimate site. Before entering your card details, check that the site has an HTTPS address with a little padlock icon next to it. If you’re not sure about a site’s legitimacy, try googling it to see if any others have had issues with it.

I hope that you’ve found some of these tips useful; a lot of times, you’ll just have to use common sense and you’ll be all right. If you’ve nevertheless fallen victim to online fraud, contact your internet provider or the CNPD (Commission Nationale pour la protection des Données).

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