By Damian Davila / Wise Bread
November 13, 2014

While movies have portrayed hackers as both good (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and evil (Live Free or Die Hard), the one thing that is clear is that they can do a good deal of damage.

Several female celebrities, such as Kate Upton, Jennifer Lawrence, and Hayden Panettiere, became victims of malicious hackers, who nabbed several intimate pictures from the celebrities’ cloud storage accounts.

And if you think that this just happens to celebrities, think again. Even common folks like you and me are being exploited by malicious hackers. It is time to step up the security of your data on the cloud with these 10 useful tips.

1. Create a Stronger Password

A strong password is your very first line of defense against anybody trying to hack your account. Unfortunately, your password is usually the weakest link. In fact, 76% of cyber attacks on corporate networks are due to weak passwords.

Strengthen your password using these security tips from Microsoft:

  1. Make the length of your password at least eight characters. If you want to make it absolutely uncrackable use 15 characters or more.
  2. Skip using your real name, last name, or company name.
  3. Don’t build entire words with only letters.
  4. Use a combination of numbers, uppercase and lowercase letters, and symbols (@, #, $, and %), if applicable.
  5. Update passwords regularly and make them significantly different from previous ones.

Using these guidelines, you can create a strong password like this one: ILuv2PlayB@dm1nt()n. By picking characters from the full set of allowed printable characters, you force hackers to guess from 645 trillion possible combinations.

2. Store Your Passwords Securely

That’s not a typo. Yes, you need several passwords. Hackers exploit the fact that about 55% of Internet users use the same password for several services. The last thing that you want is that after your Dropbox account gets hacked, your online banking account becomes the next target.

It goes without saying, keep your password to yourself. Don’t store it on visible places, such as taped to the back of your keyboard or smartphone.

In a perfect world, you would just memorize them. However, a more realistic approach is to keep an offline notebook in a secure place or use a password management application, such as KeePass Password Safe, LastPass, 1Password, or Password Safe.

3. Activate Two-Factor Authentication

On top of your password, you can often add an extra layer of security by activating two-factor authorization (also known as 2FA). Without 2FA, hackers only need your username and password to access your data.

Several cloud-based services, such as Dropbox and Office 365, offer 2FA by sending you a code via text or phone call that you need to access your account. It’s an extra step, but once you’ve set it up on all of your devices, you are good to go.

4. Keep Your Birth Date Private

But don’t just stop there.

  • The name of your first pet
  • Mom’s maiden name
  • Last four digits of your social security number
  • Name of the street that you grew up in

What do these have in common? They’re all potential answers to security questions to retrieve your password or access to your account. When selecting your security questions, make sure that their answers are not a simple Google search away.

Hide your birth date and any other private information from your bio section from any social media sites, online forums, or websites. The more private your personal information is, the less likely that a hacker can find it through search engines.

5. Learn the Process to Report Hackers

Almost every service has a way to submit a report when you think somebody else is using your account. Here is an example from Microsoft.

By investing the time in becoming familiar with the process of recovering access to your account, you are better prepared for the day that you have to rely on this process. This will help you keep some sanity during that stressful time and know what information is necessary.

6. Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi

Over 95% of American commuters use free public Wi-Fi to complete work on the go.

The problem is that about 60% of them admit they will utilize any free Wi-Fi source they can find. Data transfers happening over public Wi-Fi networks aren’t encrypted, so hackers can exploit these public networks to tap into tablets and smartphones.

By setting up “hot spot honeypots,” digital thieves tempt people with the offer of free Internet, and gain access to all kinds of private data. And they’re not doing anything too high tech: hackers just need a $100 device and can be up to 100 feet away from their victims.

Use these strategies when attempting to connect to a public Wi-Fi:

  • Verify the official name of the network with the place offering it. Don’t assume that every business or public space offers free Wi-Fi.
  • Only activate the Wi-Fi feature of your device, when you are about to access a Wi-Fi network that you have verified.
  • If planning to review work files, use your company Virtual Private Network (VPN) network, if one is available. VPN encrypts all your data during your session and and hides the identity of the servers to which you are connected. Depending on the nature of your industry, you may never want to risk viewing company files without a VPN connection.
  • Keep your device’s operating system up to date. For example, Apple is constantly releasing security updates to address system vulnerabilities for iPhones and iPads.

7. Prevent Automatic Upload of Media

If you keep the default settings from cloud storage services, such as iCloud or Dropbox, then all of your photos and videos may be automatically uploaded to the cloud.

If you’re planning to take some photos and videos that are meant for your eyes only, make sure to update the settings of your cloud storage accounts. Nobody can hack for intimate photos or videos if there are none available online in the first place.

  • iPhone Users: To prevent photos from automatically uploading from your iPhone or iPod to your iCloud account, you can go to Settings > iCloud > Photo Stream, and turn off My Photo Stream.
  • Android Users: You need to check any auto-backup settings you can find on individual apps. Some examples of apps uploading media automatically to the cloud are Facebook, Twitter, and Dropbox. Check the settings menu of your apps and disable any photo-syncing that you’re not comfortable with.

8. Backup Your Media Offline

While it is important to prevent undesired media from ending up in the cloud, it is equally important to backup the data that is important to you. An offline backup of your media is not only important for when your phone is lost, stolen, or severely damaged, but also for when somebody hacks into your cloud account and deletes all of your data!

Most smartphones provide a way to back up your device’s media that is not cloud-based and that can be stored in your personal computer. For example, Apple devices can leverage iTunes to create backups, and Samsung devices can backup through the Kies software.

9. Beware Fake Messages

If you use cloud based storage services, be on the lookout for phishing emails.

These emails may look like real messages from the developers of the service, but they are not. Hackers are trying to trick you into providing your personal information.

Here are some red flags to watch out for:

  • The spelling of the sender’s email is funny looking. For example, instead of xxx@dropbox.com, it reads xxx@dropboxx.com or xxx@drop-box.co.
  • The hyperlinked URLs have misleading domain names. For example, if you hover over a link, you notice that instead of going to the apple.com domain, it goes to apple-com.info.
  • The message contains plenty of misspellings or typos.
  • You are asked to submit your password or personal information, such as mailing address, phone number, or social security number, via email.
  • The message includes a form in Word or PDF format for you to fill out.
  • You’re asked for money to cover for expenses.

If you see any of these red flags, don’t click on any of the links, and delete the email immediately.

10. Delete What You Don’t Want Anybody to See

In an era of potentially unlimited storage through the cloud, we are tempted to keep everything.

  • THOSE pictures from your bachelorette party,
  • Intimate videos or sexts with your current or past partners,
  • Progress pictures when you started your diet,
  • Financial or tax documents over 5-years old, or
  • Scanned copies of IDs from several years ago.

If you don’t want anybody else getting their hands on your data, delete it. This is the only way that you can be sure.

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