Weekly five: Cyber security

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Cameron Carlson, a public health major, checked his bank account on his phone and discovered he was a victim of fraud last June. Carlson described it as a huge inconvenience: he had to call and visit his bank and get new cards for all his accounts. He suspects the fraud originated online.

Identity protection often involves simple precautions. Here are five quick tips to secure your identity online and avoid the trouble of scams and fraud.

1. Don’t over-share on social media

Austin Whipple, a security analyst at Bishop Fox, said social media accounts don’t need anything more than your name. Whipple recommends omitting your real birthday, location and your phone number from your social media accounts. Including details like these helps hackers.

“Often, security questions for banks, schools, email, etc. will be easily guessable based off your information,” Whipple said. “It’s easy to find someone’s mother’s maiden name through Facebook, an approximate birthdate or previous living locations. Remember when setting up these accounts, you can treat these questions as a second password, and use a separate password for these security questions.”

2. Choose a different password for every site

Once a hacker cracks one account, other accounts by the same user are rendered more vulnerable. Choosing different passwords for different accounts helps protect against this, according to Camron Horlacher, software tester at Vivint.

“One of the best ways to stop more than one account from getting hacked is to have a different password for each site you visit,” Horlacher said. “Ideally, you should change your password at least every couple months.”

Avoid common passwords. To see the top 25 most common passwords of last year, click here.

Password security sites like How Secure is My Password allow users to test how secure passwords are. Try typing a simple sentence with spaces. According to “How Secure is My Password,” such passwords— actually called “passphrases”— can take malicious software billions or trillions of years to guess.

An alternative to choosing different passwords for different sites is using LastPass.

“(LastPass) keeps track of your passwords and generates secure new ones, and you only put in one password to unlock it. I really like it,” Whipple said.

3. Avoid illegal online activity

Most online scams result from illegal downloading, pornography or by exploiting greed, according to Whipple. Steering clear of illegal online practices helps internet users avoid many causes of fraud.

“Since the user is often doing something illegal anyway, it is easy to convince them that they will get what they want if they ‘just download this browser extension or program one free Facebook app,'” Whipple said.

4. Don’t view sensitive information while using a public Wi-Fi “hotspot”

Horlacher suggested avoiding using public Wi-Fi hotspots to view sensitive information, such as bank statements.

“It is much easier for a hacker to pick off your information on a public hotspot because the information that you send across isn’t always encoded well,” Horlacher said.

Not only can hackers view some of your information on a legitimate hotspot, but they could create bogus hotspots. Bogus hotspots exist to steal personal information. Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi so that your personal information stays secure.

5. Update your operating systems, programs and browser

Software updates may seem annoying or unnecessary, but they provide protection. Updating the operating systems, the programs and the browsers used ensure a computer is up-to-date on the latest security measures.

“Software companies are constantly pushing out updates to improve user security against scammers and hackers, and they often abuse or trick programs into giving up data,” Whipple said. “I would recommend using ‘AdBlock’ and ‘Ghostery,’ which are available on all major browsers.”

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