If you think you're safe from cybercriminals because you're just a regular person, think again. Last year was a landmark for hackers: they stole images from celebrities' digital accounts, compromised personal user data from dozens of major companies and terrorized parents by taking control of their baby monitors.
Our lives are only becoming more digitized, and 2017 is bound to bring more breaches. Here are five ways to secure your digital life and keep your personal information where it belongs this year:
If you haven't started using a password manager yet, 2017 is the year to do so. Password managers are applications that store login credentials for the websites you use, then log in to those sites automatically for you. There are numerous password managers that are free and highly ranked.
Most consumers don't create unique passwords for each site, and they certainly don't change them every month. One survey found that 74% of people log in to six or more sites a day, yet 59% of them use and memorize five or fewer passwords.
2Given the amount of major security breaches and data leaks that happen every year to big-name companies, these alarming stats are a convincing reason to consider a password manager.
If the horror stories of hackers spying on internet users and corporate boardrooms via built-in webcams haven't convinced you to cover up your webcam, consider this: the FBI has now advised people to do it.
Placing a piece of tape or a sticky note over your computer's webcam is the easiest way to do this, though there are more advanced methods to protect yourself from webcam hacking.
Webcams are easily hacked through malware, so never open an e-mail attachment from someone you don't know. If you receive an unsolicited, suspicious email attachment from someone you do know, be cautious of opening it—the sender's email may have been hacked. It's also a good idea to download a powerful antivirus program to block hackers from embedding themselves in your computer.
According to Quincy Larson, founder of Free Code Camp, accessing someone's computer is a real gold mine for hackers. He told The New York Times that, even if your data is protected with a password, a hacker accessing an unprotected hard drive, "would have access to all your files if they were unencrypted."
Hackers can steal anything stored on an unprotected hard drive, including photos, financial documents, personal communications, and work data. But there's an easy fix: data encryption.
Data encryption is hardware that converts the information stored on your computer into unreadable code to unauthorized snoops. Both major operating systems offer free, automatic encryption, which is built-in protection for the hard drive that the user simply needs to activate.
Home security hacks are becoming more personal in the wireless smart home era as burglars disable security systems from their phones, threatening voices issue from baby monitors and strangers digitally open doors. To hacker-proof your smart home security system, do the following:
Security analyst David Jacoby advises consumers to avoid security system startups because security won't be as high of a priority for them. "You want someone who has been around, someone with a reputation," he told PC World. "At least they will stand behind their product and push out updates."
Your security system will come with a default username and password that's the same for every unit—it's one of the easiest ways for hackers to access your wireless security system. Change it immediately.
. Purchase a high-quality router with reviews that praise the security features. Be sure to change the router's default login and password before installing, and regularly update the firmware.
. Never leave your Wi-Fi network open—secure your network with unique login credentials that are difficult to guess. Use a secure WPA2 network encryption along with a firewall.
. Just like your phone and computer, all smart devices need regular software upgrades. The security features on smart security systems are constantly improving, which is why approving regular security updates is critical.
"With the Internet of Things becoming more and more prevalent, security companies will continue to increase the security of their products," says David DeMille, a home security expert with A Secure Life.
With a 57% increase in identity theft complaints in 2015, identity theft is becoming so common that experts say it's impossible to prevent. The scary part is you may not know your identity has been stolen until you receive a mystery bill or your credit score drastically drops.
Identity theft is complex. There are several types, from stealing your tax identification number to filing tax returns in your name to using your health insurance member number to receive medical care. According to USA.gov, you can take steps to minimize threats such as these:
. Even if the requester is from a legitimate company, don't respond to requests to share your personal information over phone, mail, or digital contact. Always remember that your cellphone provider or bank is never going to contact you to ask for your Social Security number or address.
. Retrieve mail immediately, and place a hold on your mail when you leave town.
Receipts, credit card offers, and account statements are golden eggs to a dumpster diver.
. Annual Credit Report is the only federally mandated credit report site. From there, you can access your report from the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Thanks to technology innovations and a Wi-Fi world, we're more connected today than ever before. You can make sure this connectivity works only to your advantage by protecting yourself from digital safety risks that make you a prime target for digital theft and fraud.