The Internet has certainly enhanced our lives by adding everything from the ability to find information in a fraction of a second to shopping from the comfort of one's own bed. It's improved the experience and prospects of owning a business, working abroad, and staying connected to those you love.
Unfortunately, what it can also do is simultaneously allow us to make poor decisions when it comes to protecting ourselves. These decisions can compromise our security for the sake of a level of convenience we've grown to expect. While we find our daily need for quick, easy technology, we can't skip safety steps and risk our security.
Nord VPN, a provider of virtual private networks for mobile devices and computers, has compiled a list of the most frequent behaviors we engage in as users of technology that may impact us negatively.
Too many browser extensions: There are many extensions that can make Internet use more engaging, faster, and entertaining. The problem with granting so much access to your browser is that some of these extensions might be gathering your data without your knowledge, or even open a backdoor for malware. According to How-To Geek, many of these extensions require you to grant access to everything you do online, which means, for instance, that they can covertly function as a "keylogger" to capture passwords, credit card numbers, redirect your searches, and more. Make sure you properly vet your extensions, and keep them to a minimum. Only install those that are essential to your daily Internet use.
Change up your passwords: While repeating this seems excessive to some, so many online shoppers and users of online banking often keep their password the same on all of their accounts. In fact, according to a YouGov survey, 28% of adult Americans admit to using the same password across the board. That number becomes even more shocking when you consider that 35% of those who use the same password had at least one account hacked in the past, and 22% were victims of identity theft. If a hacker gets this universal key to all of your accounts, the amount of damage that can be incurred in simply a few minutes can be devastating. If you have trouble remembering your passwords, you can find a helpful password manager to assist you. Read this helpful article on Password Managers from AARP.
Not using two-step authentication: This is an easy-to-use, extra level of security that offers great protection against hackers, yet many don't use this feature - almost 90% of Gmail users haven't upgraded. Major email providers beyond Gmail, and other platforms, such as Apple's iCloud, Twitter and Facebook, offer this feature. It's very simple to install and use, and very hard for hackers to circumnavigate.
Postponing antivirus updates: Most people view those nagging popups as just that -- another nagging popup. Cybersecurity experts employed by software companies responsible for encrypting your data work to stay one step ahead of hackers or government agencies, but it can be challenging. Keep up-to-date whenever you can to ensure the highest level of security for your personal data. If you're on a deadline and can't spare the time, consider turning on automatic updates so they can download while you're away from your keyboard.
Banking on public Wi-Fi: The benefits of free Wi-Fi are something we're all familiar with, especially in setting such as your local coffee shop. But as you might guess, many of these setups do not offer solid protection. Public Wi-Fi points are often the easiest ways for someone to steal your data. Hackers use a variety of techniques that utilize different aspects of the public internet access point -- malware injection, man-in-the-middle, Wi-Fi sniffing -- making it a particularly dangerous place to do any kind of sensitive online activity. Staying away from your favorite coffee haunts is probably out of the question, so while there it's best to limit yourself to less important matters when using public WiFi networks. Personally, I avoid doing banking or any type of work that includes using passwords whenever I'm in a public spot, including hotels.
No lock screen protection / computer password / weak passwords: This one is simple. If you don't have a passcode for your smartphone, and it's not always in your pocket or in your hand, someone with malicious intentions can have their way with your device and personal information. Whenever you leave your device alone, no matter how short a period of time, always lock your screen with a strong password. Also, consider enabling remote wiping so you can delete your personal data in the event someone makes away with your device.
Uploading unencrypted files to the cloud: The cloud in some ways is really just another person or company's computer, although many of us think that it's a secure extension of our own devices. Some companies can access your files at any time, and whatever cloud service you use is always subject to attacks from hackers. If you must use cloud storage, it's well worth the effort it takes to encrypt your data before uploading it. NordVPN offers a service called NordLocker that provides this service.
Falling for phishing traps / downloading unknown attachments: Many successful hacking attempts occur through the method known as "phishing", where a hacker will send you an email containing a link and instructions to click on it. These links often download malware onto your computer. The thing is, some of these emails look legitimate. I recently received an email from my bank, but it was a scam. Yet it looked completely official. If you cannot verify the sender, don't open the email or download the attachment.
Visiting HTTP websites: It's sometimes difficult to understand what your URL bar means, especially if you don't program yourself. But there's a simple rule to follow -- web addresses that begin with "https" are more trustworthy than those that only have "http". Website URLs without an "s" are not encrypted, meaning your activity can be observed by others. This is particularly dangerous if you're conducting transactions on one of these sites, because your credit card numbers and other personal information are visible.
Agreeing to all terms of agreement: This might be the most cumbersome of all the suggestions included here. Hidden within the lengthy terms can exist clauses that allow the developers to collect information about you, listen to your conversations, and install malware amongst many other tricks. It's certainly irritating to hear this, but you should make a habit of reading the terms and conditions before agreeing.
About the author: Jeanette Pavini is a two-time Emmy Award winning consumer reporter and author of more than 10,000 money-saving stories. She is a columnist for The Street's Retirement Daily, and a contributor for various news outlets including The Today Show and Hallmark Channel's Home & Family. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal Weekend and USA Today. She was the chief consumer reporter for CBS 5 News in San Francisco where her money-saving segments became the backbone to her 30-minute consumer show.