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Are you putting your data at risk?

You probably lock your doors, wear a seatbelt in the car, and put smoke alarms in your home, all for safety’s sake. But are you taking unnecessary risks with your financial and personal data by not properly securing it?

In this day and age, it seems like large-scale cybersecurity incidents are constantly in the news. While it may be next to impossible to avoid being swept up in massive breaches like last year’s Equifax, affecting some 123 million households, every day people make some common mistakes that leave themselves and their data vulnerable to hacking. Here are just a few pitfalls to avoid.

Opening phishing emails. It might look surprisingly real. Or just wildly intriguing. But those tempting “phishing” emails—with subject lines that promise you’ve won the lottery or that a friend or family member needs help—should be deleted immediately. While most email programs have spam filters that catch these messages, some do sneak through. Still others have been “spoofed” to appear as though they’re from someone you know. Not only do they contain bogus requests for your personal information, which you should never give out, they often contain malware that can infect your device to steal information, such as bank accounts and credit card numbers. Don’t open them and don’t click on any links in them.

Clicking on questionable links. Similar to those in phishing emails, suspicious links like those found in search results, pop-up ads, or dubious websites can add malware to your system that could give away access to your personal data. Always stick to reputable sites before you click through. If in doubt, don’t click!

Choosing weak passwords and using them over and over. The shorter and simpler the password you use, the easier it is for hackers to guess it, with the help of special software in something called a “brute force attack.” Further, when all of your passwords for shopping and banking sites are the same, all of your accounts can be compromised. Use multiple passwords for your accounts, and make them as complex as possible with a mix of numbers, letters (both uppercase and lowercase), and special characters.  Don’t use common words or phrases, and change your passwords often.

Procrastinating on updates. Putting off installing necessary updates lets hackers exploit known weaknesses and vulnerabilities in software or operating systems. Updates often include patches to such holes in security. Be sure to download them right away, and don’t leave your system open to an attack. While you’re at it, be sure your security software (antivirus, antimalware, etc.) is set to automatically update, too.

Using public Wi-Fi. Simple rule:  Don't use public Wi-Fi to access your personal or financial information. First, these networks are not secure. Second, cybercriminals set up fake Wi-Fi networks designed to lure unsuspecting users into joining, leaving them vulnerable to malware that harvests passwords and other personal data. Better to use cellular networks when out and about or, better still, wait until you’re at home on your own Wi-Fi network.

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