The start of a new year is the perfect time to rehabilitate bad habits. While some choose exercise or learning a second language, it’s also an opportunity to make some changes to how you interface with your personal tech.
Despite near-constant reminders of the importance of good passwords, checking our credit card statements, and avoiding phishing attempts, it’s easy to get lazy about our internet habits. That’s why now is a great time to set yourself up on the path to success.
Here are five easy steps you can take to have a better, safer online life in 2020.
1. Get a password manager
Maintaining strong, unique passwords is the “flossing your teeth” of internet life: absolutely essentially and yet widely ignored.
Sometimes my own family members tell me that they don’t need to worry. “Who would hack me?” they ask, as if victims are personally staked out rather than harvested millions at a time.
So let’s explain one more time. The reason you need passwords that are both strong and unique is simple. When a major hacking occurs, the stolen information is frequently sold on the dark web to other hackers, who, in turn, try to use the data to hack accounts on other sites.
For example, if a hacker knows that “[email protected]” used the password “abc123” on the first hacked site, they can put that information into a script that will try those credentials on 10,000 other popular sites, like banks, medical records websites, and other retailers. If “Joe” used the same credentials for multiple sites, he’s in trouble.
Don’t be Joe. Use a password manager like LastPass, which can create a unique password for every site you log into – you’ll only ever need to remember one master password. All your individual passwords are stored securely in the cloud and cannot be unencrypted, even by LastPass. It’s cheap, too, with plans ranging from free to $3 to $4 per month.
2. Consider a VPN
Your home Wi-Fi is safe (probably), as is the cellular signal from your phone’s carrier, but please, please stop connecting to public Wi-Fi networks.
If a car pulled up on the street with the word “police” written in crayon on the side, would you get in? Of course not, and yet plenty of people connect to “Starbucks Free WiFi” without any idea of who’s actually managing the network, watching all of your online activity and waiting for you to reveal valuable personal data.
A virtual private network (VPN) is the ideal protection against intruders, while still allowing you to hop on free Wi-Fi networks when you really need to. A VPN creates a sort of shell that allows you to keep your identity protected not just from Wi-Fi networks but also from the websites you visit.
VPNs are crucial tools for journalists and political dissenters working under oppressive governments. For regular folks, they’re just an additional layer of privacy that only truly essential when using public Wi-Fi.
NordVPN or ExpressVPN are two popular and trusted choices, and trust is paramount because you have to take the VPN companies at their word when they say they’re not monitoring your web traffic.
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Source: USA Today