In April 2011, Sony’s PlayStation Network was hacked and millions of users’ names and personal information were stolen. In June, hacking group LulzSec released personal information from AT&T customers. LulzSec also periodically released giant files of usernames and passwords, encouraging people to plug the combinations into various websites to see what they were for. These attacks led to identity theft and the use of stolen credit card numbers to purchase items online.
How can you be sure your information is safe? In the face of accomplished hacking groups like Anonymous, does an average computer user even stand a chance? The only way to stay completely safe is to abstain and stay offline. But for those not attempting the Luddite lifestyle, here are five tips to secure your online presence and avoid getting hacked.
1. USE DIFFERENT PASSWORDS FOR EACH ACCOUNT.
No website is completely safe—after all, it’s not like anyone expected their information to be stolen from Sony. But it happens. The best way to protect yourself is to use different passwords for each online account you have. Or, at the very least, have several different ones you alternate, including one for sites you sign up for once and never use again. One way to do so is to sign up for LastPass (LastPass.com), which stores all of your passwords on a secure server and generates hack-proof passwords for every new account you sign up for.
2. BE CAREFUL ABOUT WHO CAN SEE YOUR PERSONAL DATA.
Usually, the most common security measure when creating an online account is to choose from a list of “security INquestions.” Often, those are things like your mother’s maiden name, your first pet or the name of the town where you were born. Well, if you make a habit of announcing information like that on Facebook, it won’t take much for a hacker to figure out the answer to your security questions—especially if your Facebook account has no privacy controls.
3. STAY OFF OF UNSECURED NETWORKS—WIRED AND WIRELESS.
Using a public computer or an unsecured WiFi connection and typing in your passwords can give someone easy access to your information. Tracking software is easy to install, and there are programs that can record keystrokes from your computer or over the air.
4. REALLY, TRULY KILL YOUR ACCOUNTS IF YOU NEED TO.
Sometimes when you think you’ve deleted your account, you’ve really just deleted a portion of it and it remains completely recoverable to anyone who knows what they’re doing. Check out AccountKiller.com to see how to delete any of your accounts once and for all.
5. DON’T BE DUMB.
Use common sense. Don’t give out your social security, pin number or credit card number in emails. Don’t post Facebook pictures with you holding your new debit card and/or driver’s license. In short, don’t do anything related to your online privacy when you know there’s a decent chance someone could peek in.