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6 Ways to Protect Yourself from Online Threats

5 minute read

To help better illustrate the importance of online safety and security, Microsoft recently released the results of its 2013 Microsoft Computer Safety Index study. The survey tracked safety behavior of nearly 10,500 people worldwide to get a handle on just how costly these digital threats can be, and to make recommendations on how to better protect against online danger.

The bottom line: An estimated $23 billion was lost last year to online risks such as phishing, ID theft, viruses, data leaks and more. The biggest cost – and arguably, the biggest threat – was damage to professional reputation to the tune of $4.5 billion yearly.

Don’t let the bad guys take their cut from your personal bank account. Here are 6 steps you can take to better protect yourself from danger.

1. Take Charge of Your Online Reputation

How, exactly, can damage to your online reputation be so costly? Ask Anthony Weiner, the former New York congressman whose bid for NYC mayor was sunk by compromising selfies he texted to women. In all seriousness, Microsoft survey data reveals that the median amount respondents paid out to repair their professional reputation was $2,600.

Naturally, the best way to protect your reputation is to watch what you say online and put your best foot forward. If you need a little bit of help, check out these tools for protecting your online reputation. You might also want to consider using a reputation-monitoring service like Persona.

2. Defend your Devices

Think about all the sensitive information stored on your mobile phone. Some people store private contacts. Others keep online banking data on our phones or use their phones as mobile wallets. A small percentage of Americans even have naked selfies saved.

But while there’s plenty to be stolen on our phones, Microsoft’s survey reveals that only 33% use a PIN to lock our mobile devices. Even fewer of us (21%) use mobile security apps. That suggests a lot of sensitive data is at risk should a snoop decide to play around with our phones.

Thankfully, protecting mobile devices is something that can be done quickly and at little-to-no cost. Read our need-to-know guide on mobile security for more on how to defend your smartphones and tablets. And if you’re worried someone may have installed spyware on your personal device, here are the warning signs and fixes you need to know about.

3. Create Strong Passwords

Virtually every account we create online asks us to create a unique password. Is it any wonder, then, that far too many of us use easily cracked passwords like our pet’s name or “1234”?

Don’t get hacked because you set a lazy password or PIN. Microsoft recommends you choose passwords that are “unique, long and strong.” It also recommends you keep your passwords to yourself, no matter how much it’s killing you to tell someone. You may also want to consider using a password manager like the iCloud Keychain built into iOS 7.

4. Use Social Networks More Safely

More than ever before, social media sites are encouraging us to share everything. That’s great for advertisers, but it can be downright dangerous for you and me. What happens if someone pulls information from Facebook to steal your identity? Or, worse yet, what if a stranger is watching your check-ins and tags to know where you physically are at all times?

Being safe on social media means being private on social media with personal details. Regularly review your Facebook privacy settings to make sure you’re not sharing anything you’d rather stay private, such as your phone number. You should also check these 5 Google privacy settings. Even if you don’t use the Google+ social network, it might still be leaking your private email address to the world.

5. Take Extra Steps to Keep Kids Safe

Sure, you may know the ins and outs of Internet safety like the back of your hand. But does your child? Play online with your kids. Have conversations with your kids about what they do online, and remind them not to share any personally identifiable information. Put blocks on sites you don’t want kids using.

Want even more protection? Make sure you embrace these 4 ways to keep kids safe online. You might also want to review our parents’ guide to social networking.

6. Protect Sensitive Personal Information

If you do any online banking, stock trading or make other sensitive online transactions, you should exercise extra care. Don’t access your accounts while on public Wi-Fi – such networks are notoriously hackable. Always access your accounts by typing the URL yourself, and never by following an email link. And when you do connect, make sure your transactions are encrypted (look for the “https”).

Now that you’ve had a refresher on the basics of what to protect, find out how well you’re keeping yourself and your family safe by calculating your Computer Safety Index score. And, check out our 6-item online safety checklist and review these 11 simple ways to protect your privacy. Let’s be careful out there!

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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