Your online life is convenient and, in lots of ways, fun. However, identity thieves break into online accounts to gain access to other parts of your life. For example, if a thief gets into an online-shopping account, he can use information like your credit-card billing address to con customer-service representatives at other sites into giving him control of those accounts.
Internet security doesnít have to be an ordeal. You can still enjoy your online life while keeping your finances, identity, and computer secure. These tips will help you maintain control of your accounts without sacrificing much of the convenience of using the Internet.
Each site should have its own password. That way, if one account is compromised, the bad guy canít easily access the others. You can use password-management options like LastPass to store all your login information. The master password should be a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters like exclamation points; you donít want one thatís easy to force or guess.
Most account-security questions ask for information that anybody who has a casual conversation with you can discover. In fact, you may have voluntarily made some of these facts public by posting to social-networking accounts. Depending on privacy settings, anybody may be able to learn your favorite petís name, your high-school mascot, your hometown, or any of the other things you typically see as answers to security questions.
The trick here is to create incorrect, but memorable, answers to these questions. Answer "motherís maiden name" with her nickname for you when you were a child. When asked for your favorite book, answer with your favorite ice-cream topping instead. Avoid obvious two-word phrases, like using "purple" for the question and "haze" for the answer; theyíre easy to guess.
Spyware, Malware, Viruses, and Other Junk
Scanning for malicious software, and actively trying to keep it out of your computer, can prevent lots of problems. Even if you don't visit shady sites, some of your favorite, trusted places can become infected with malware and other, nasty things. That's why, no matter where you go online or what you do while youíre there, you should keep up with anti-virus and anti-malware scans.
For most sites, you donít really need to keep payment information on file. Even though the site does not display the entire card number, an identity thief can get info like the last four digits of that card. This might be enough to trick a different companyís representative into giving him access to that account. Delete payment information after your cardís processed. Use pre-paid debit cards, which limit account balances and offer theft protection. Fund accounts you regularly useópaid-download sites, for exampleówith gift cards.
Sometimes, account control is out of your hands. When other people are tasked with helping keep your accounts secure (customer-service representatives, for example), the best you can do is find good ways to use the tools you can control.
Keep an eye on your e-mail and, if you see something suspicious, contact customer service. You might get an e-mail informing you that your password change was successful. If you didnít change your password, get in touch with somebody at the company or site.
Routinely changing passwords also helps. Some people use different e-mail addresses for each, online account, which frustrates thieves. The bad guys assume that you use YourName@example.com everywhere, so using different e-mails makes their lives harder. Free, Web-based e-mail accounts work for this purpose.
Regularly backing up your online life makes being hacked a lot less frustrating. You might still lose some information, and youíll still have to regain control of your online accounts, but not all of your irreplaceable data will vanish.
On the Internet, there are no identity-protection guarantees. Your job is to make your accounts more difficult to break into than somebody elseís. Most identity thieves have plenty of soft targets and will focus on those instead of working harder to wreak havoc on your digital life.