We live in a society fully saturated by technology. I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t live without my tech – it’s both my passion and a necessity for my way of life. As Ben Parker always said, “With great power, comes great responsibility,” and the power of technology is so easy to obtain and wield that we often forget that. It’s time to be responsible and stop making these common tech mistakes.
1. Using the Same Password for Everything
Target, Adobe, Facebook, LinkedIn and Snapchat are among the large companies whose databases of private customer information have been compromised. If you use the same username/password for all of your accounts, changing your password on one site doesn’t do you any good. I could find your login credentials in one of those hacks and use it to access any accounts you have with the same info.
Mix-up your passwords, and never reuse the same password twice. It sounds harder than it is – all you have to do is take your basic passphrase (i.e. “password”), and change it up. Your Google password can be “pA55w0rd1!” and Facebook can be “pA55w0rd2!” so you can remember both easily without compromising your security. Find more password tips in this Lifehack.
2. Not Using 2-Step Verification
Speaking of passwords, even those aren’t very secure anymore (check out this infographic). If I have access to any of your devices (either physically or through a network), I can install a keylogger and harvest all of your passwords. Enabling 2-step verification makes this much more difficult.
All major services (Facebook, Google, Twitter, etc.) allow some form of 2-step verification, and you’d be remiss not to utilize them. Set up your accounts to send you a text, require an authentication code, etc. when accessed outside of your personal devices and home network.
3. Connecting to Public Networks without a VPN
Many businesses and organizations offer public Wi-Fi networks, including McDonald’s, Starbucks, airports and gyms. Using these networks opens your computer to anyone else on the network – it’s like leaving your wallet open next to you while sleeping on a park bench.
A virtual private network (VPN) secures your information while using these public networks. If you wouldn’t participate in an orgy with strangers without a condom, don’t connect to a public network without a VPN.
4. Not Updating Software
In 2011, the Sony PlayStation Network was hacked, and the personal info of every PlayStation user (which was stored in an unencrypted database) was exposed. It happened a month after Sony missed an important Apache server upgrade.
Updating your software is vital, as the companies that created it are constantly fighting to fix security vulnerabilities. If you’re not updating your software at least once a week, your data has a higher chance of being compromised.
5. Disabling Your Firewall and Antivirus
Sometimes your firewall can be a pain – this is especially true for gamers and those who use streaming services, such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. It can be tempting to disable your security software to make it easier to access the sites you love, but that’s only making things worse.
Instead, set individual rules for each site. This is time-consuming for the first couple of days, but the protection it provides over the life of your computer is beyond worth it. My recommendations for security software are AVG (desktop/laptop antivirus), ZoneAlarm (desktop/laptop firewall), and Lookout Security (smartphone/tablet antivirus/firewall), all of which have free versions available.
6. Ignoring Social Media Privacy Settings
Facebook tells you to use your real info, as do LinkedIn and Google+. It’s ok to use some of your personal info (basic demographics, work history, etc.), but don’t give away the entire farm.
Privacy is a cloudy concept these days, and it’s always best to err on the side of caution. The last thing you need is someone using your personal info on social media against you, and this is especially dangerous for women, who are stalked online at alarming rates.
7. Ignoring App Permissions
Speaking of using your personal information, you should pay very close attention to what types of permissions you agree to give when either installing apps and games on your mobile device or using a social media account to sign in to ANY service.
Candy Crush doesn’t need your (Global Positioning System) GPS location; Huffington Post doesn’t need to know who your friends are; and Flappy Birds has no business seeing your contacts. Learning to say “No” is one of the most important human skills you can have – start with software, and work your way up to other people.
8. Not Encrypting Your Email
Do you remember the U.S. Post Office? When I was your age, in order to send someone a message, our mailman had to walk barefoot, uphill in the snow both ways. These days we send emails, but it’s important to keep the mailman imagery in your head.
An email isn’t a letter – it’s a postcard, and the message is visible to anyone. When you encrypt your email with Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) encryption, you’re sealing that postcard in the same secure envelope used by every government and corporation on this planet. If they’re doing it, so should you. And it’s 100% free. There’s literally no reason for you not to be doing this.
9. Not Protecting Your Smartphone
Smartphones are so ubiquitous in our lives these days that we take them for granted. They’re computers, filled with all your private and personal info. When you trade your phone in for a new one, you need to erase your personal info first. It’s not as simple as just deleting it, however – you need to use the “One Pass Zero” method, which not only erases the data, but overwrites it with a series of zeros (remember digital data in its purest form is 1s and 0s).
Think of it in terms of writing a note with pencil and paper. When you erase the pencil marks, you can still see what you wrote, but if you scribble over the part you erased, it’s much harder. With enough time and effort, even a one-pass deletion can be overcome, but the “geniuses” at the Apple store don’t have those kinds of resources. If you don’t do it, however, you’ll end up being one of these Apple horror stories.
The Internet is an amazing place, but it can also be dangerous. Before heading out into the web, make sure to protect yourself and your data. The last thing you need is to have your rent or mortgage payment declined because someone hacked the servers of an app you downloaded and used for five minutes, dumping every user’s personal info online for everyone to use.