As I’ve come to learn, being cautious online is incredibly important for women who are more active on social media, and who, as early as the year 2000, were found to have surpassed men in Internet usage. But it seems like every time I turn around, I see a news story about a major online security breach; passwords were hacked, information is stolen, and sensitive data is compromised.
But this shouldn’t deter me from updating my status on Facebook, shopping online for a new dress, or searching for a new job opportunity. Therefore, I’ve put together a list of nine tips I’ve learned to help other savvy women (like you!) stay safe when using the Internet.
1. Be password smart
The #1 tip when it comes to protecting yourself online is to be smart when choosing passwords. Don’t reuse the same password on every website, and don’t make a password that is predictable–meaning don’t include dictionary words or phrases, names, birthdays, sports teams, etc. Learn how to create a strong password, or consider using a free password generator tool to create a unique letter-number-symbol combination. And don’t forget to change your passwords regularly to keep hackers at bay.
2. Even Better? Use a Password Manager
If you think dealing with long, complex passwords is too much to handle, consider using a password manager, free or paid. No other tool provides a better balance between online security and convenience. Dashlane offers a password manager that helps you keep those passwords handy on your computer and mobile devices, but also protects every bit of your data under industry-leading AES-256 encryption.
3. Don’t share sensitive information via email
Email is a very useful way of communicating, but also a handy tool for cyber criminals. Protect yourself from potential social engineering and phishing scams by never sharing sensitive information through an email. A reputable business should not ask for account numbers, a social security number or other information that could be easily compromised through an email. If you’re asked to send information in this way, contact the company either in person or over the phone to verify the email is from them. Also, use Dashlane’s Inbox Scan tool, which scans your inbox to find buried sensitive information.
4. Sign up for login notifications
For websites and apps you frequently use and login to, sign up for “login notifications” or “remote login notifications.” If anyone logs into your account for any reason, you will receive an email or text notification. Yes, you’ll get a couple unwanted notifications every time you log in with a new or unauthorized device, but if this feature is offered, take advantage of it. You’ll be notified of any unusual activity that isn’t coming from you and you can quickly change your password.
5. Access your accounts only from secure locations
It’s tempting to use the free Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop to check your email or pay a few bills. While using free Wi-Fi may be okay for simple tasks, like reading the news or playing a game of Candy Crush, you’ll want to avoid logging into any of your secure accounts on a public network connection, like an online banking account or your primary email account. Just logging into your account for a moment could give a potential hacker the opportunity to view your information over an unsecured connection. If you don’t believe me, ask Steve Petrow, the USA Today Journalist who was hacked mid-flight using the airline’s in-flight Internet connection!
6. Use an up-to-date security program
I’m sure many of you are probably using some form of a virus scanner or an all-in-one security program. But, is it up to date? Make sure your anti-virus and anti-malware programs are updated on a regular basis. If you aren’t sure which program to use, consider one that is highly recommended by a reputable source, like PC Magazine. Also, avoid downloading anti-malware and anti-virus software directly from the Internet, unless it’s directly from the publisher’s own website.
7. Be careful which sites you trust
While most websites are secure and legit, unfortunately, there are some that are simply phishy. That’s why it is important to check out any site in detail before you input any credentials or sensitive information. There are four things you should immediately do or look for on a suspicious website.
First, look for the website’s contact information and make sure you would be able to reach them via phone, email, or live chat if you have doubts about the site’s credibility. Second, I suggest Googling the web address; does it display as a “safe” site in the address bar? You can tell if it has a solid lock or key on the far left side of the address bar.
Thirdly, verify any page requiring payment or checkout information is protected with SSL–the page would begin with “https” instead of “http”. Finally, make sure to look out for any misspellings, unusual words or special characters before or after the company’s name, and URLs with unusual endings, like “paypal.it” instead of “paypal.com.”
8. Guard your computer
Even if you’re vigilant about you online security, all that hard work can go to waste if you allow someone else to use your computer. Be cautious about who you let use your device, and don’t leave an unlocked computer sitting around for just anyone to use. If you must share your computer with guests or other household members, consider setting up individual accounts (with password protection) to ensure your information remains protected.
9. Secure your social media accounts
I love social media! It helps me stay in touch with friends and family around the world, and it’s super useful for my job. However, it can be an open door for hackers, and for some women, it can even make them a target of harassment–online and offline. Spend a little time becoming familiar with the security features of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other popular social media sites and apps. Make sure you’re comfortable with the personal information that is displayed about you publicly. You’ll be surprised how much information about you is available.
As you can see, there are many ways for women like me and you to protect ourselves while surfing the web—and most of them are pretty easy to do! I challenge you to practice one or more of these tips in the next week, and tell me about your experience in the comments below!
Want more tips on how to stay safe online? Check out these other useful resources on our blog: