In this digital age, where almost the entire human knowledge is stored online, some of the most valuable information you possess is your own identity. The term refers to information that enables an identity thief to impersonate their victim to access their bank account, to obtain and abuse a credit card in their victim’s name, or to tap into other resources.
Hackers have found many ways to come by this information, for example cracking email account passwords, introducing keyloggers that record every keystroke made on a computer, or intercepting the Internet traffic of their victim and recording the transmitted information. Likewise, there are a multitude of steps you can take to protect yourself and your personal information from these attacks.
1. Use A Firewall
Hackers who do not have direct access to your computer can get into your system through your Internet connection. One way to get in is via an open network port. A firewall controls all traffic that passes through your network ports, whether it’s coming in or going out. The software acts like a gatekeeper and allows you to decide which programs get to send and receive information.
Windows comes with a basic firewall. In Windows 7 you can access the settings of your firewall under > Start > Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall. A software that can help you manage your firewall is Windows 7 Firewall Control.
There are several alternatives to the default Windows firewall, which offer more features for advanced users. We have covered the 7 Top Firewall Programs as well as the Three Best Firewalls for Windows. If you are using a Mac, you might want to look into How To Enable the Firewall In Mac OS X Snow Leopard.
2. Secure Your Network
A person who has access to your network can intercept your network traffic and possibly gain access to sensitive data. Hence, it is imperative to change the default login information of your router and set a network password for your local WiFi.
The following articles will provide further details:
- How To Secure Your Wireless Network Connection
- WiFi for Dummies: 9 Common Mistakes Setting up a Wireless Network
- How To Secure Your D-Link Wireless Router
- How To Hide Your WiFi Network & Prevent It From Being Seen
- Is Your Wireless Network Safe?
3. Use Anti-Malware Software
Possibly the easiest way for a hacker to sneak into your system is by using malicious software installations authorized or performed by the naive user. In some cases, the user doesn’t even need to authorize anything, as the spyware auto-runs and installs itself as soon as the user opens a file or allows a script to run off a website. Anti-malware software can protect your data by detecting malicious activity on your computer and preventing an infection.
Please consult these posts for in-depth information:
- 7 Common Sense Tips to Help You Avoid Catching Malware
- 7 Essential Security Downloads You MUST Have Installed
- The 9 Types of Computer Viruses To Watch Out For & What They Do
4. Work With A Standard Or Limited User Account
Most people prefer to work with the Administrator account because it seems more convenient. You can easily install a program without having to switch users or run an installation file with Administrator rights. Well, guess how many hackers or malicious programs like that!
Windows Vista and Windows 7 have made the system more secure by requiring a confirmation or Administrator login information when programs attempt to make changes to the system. If you are still using Windows XP, however, be sure to make your default account a non-Admin account. You can still run processes as Administrator from within this account, provided you know the login information.
Also, do set a password for the default Administrator account. Often, the Administrator account has no password. This is another open door into your system, especially if someone had direct access to your computer, so you better lock it.
5. Use Strong Passwords & Change Them Often
The only thing you can do to protect online accounts, such as your webmail or online banking, is to choose strong passwords, a different one for each and every account, and then change your passwords often. This is hard, but for accounts that contain sensitive information, such as personal data or credit card numbers, it is incredibly important.
Please have a look at the articles below for tips regarding password creation and management:
- How To Create A Good Password That You Will Not Forget
- How To Create Strong Passwords That You Can Remember Easily
- How To: Make Important Online Accounts Unbreachable
- Put Your Passwords Through The Crack Test With These Five Password Strength Tools
- 5 Free Password Generators For Nearly Unhackable Passwords
- 4 Open Source Password Managers To Keep Your Passwords Safe
- KeePassX – Secure Password Management For Linux & OS X
6. Encrypt Sensitive Data
When storing sensitive data on your hard drive or on an external storage device, encrypt it. This way it is hard to access, even if a hacker does gain access to your computer and manages to copy data. An excellent free open source tool to encrypt data is TrueCrypt.
You will find more information on the topic in these posts:
- Encrypt Your USB Stick With Truecrypt 6.0
- Easily Encrypt Your USB Drive With Rohos Mini Drive 1.7
- How To Secure & Encrypt Your Information If Your Laptop Gets Stolen [Mac]
7. Use Secure Connections For Sending Sensitive Data
The Internet is just too convenient not to be used. It’s fun and easy to sign up for new accounts, participate in contests, shop from your couch, and plan your vacation. Every time you use such a service, you reveal a bit of personal information: your name, address, personal interests, banking details, and when you will be away from home. This information is highly valuable!
To protect your personal information when using online services, be sure that data is exclusively submitted via an encrypted secure connections (SSL/TLS protocol). You are dealing with a secure connection when the URL in your browser starts with https:// instead of http://. Presently, you can set Facebook, Gmail and Twitter to constantly connect through HTTPS, which increases the security of exchanging information through these sites.
More information here:
- Facebook Finally Offers Users The Encryption They Deserve [News]
- Twitter Adds “Always Use HTTPS” To Settings, Enable It Now! [News]
8. Keep Operating System & Software Updated
Most programs have bugs and the worst of them are security holes. To fix bugs, software developers provide patches and software updates. Updating your operating system, your drivers, and all installed software thus is not a question of accessing new features, it’s a matter of keeping your system safe and functional.
Please have a look at these articles:
- 5 Quick Steps to Manage Software Updates with SUMo
- FileHippo Update Checker Keeps Your PC Software Updated
- How To Automatically Update 3′rd Party Apps on Your Mac
- How To Save & Share Software Updates on Mac
9. Wipe & Overwrite Storage Devices Before Discarding
Before you dispose of hardware that previously stored personal information, for example hard drives, USB flash drives, memory cards, or DVDs, either physically destroy the item or overwrite the entire drive. Deleting files or formatting a drive alone is not sufficient. Hackers will be able to restore the information. You must overwrite the storage space with random data.
The following post reveals more details:
Have you ever had a case of identity theft? How did the hackers gain access to your data?