Protecting your online privacy helps prevent identity theft, data breaches and misuse of your personal information. Safeguarding digital privacy is even more important to small business owners because a hacking attack could affect customers and expose owners to lawsuits. For freelancers, using popular freelance sites brings a risk of exposure to scammers who use these sites to find targets. No matter your personal or professional situation, use these five tips to protect your online privacy and keep your data secure.
1. Watch Your Wifi
Avoid public wireless networks, such as those at coffee shops or airports that aren’t secure. Hackers can intercept information sent over open Wi-Fi networks, distribute malware or set up fake hotspots to capture data. Follow these pointers to ensure a safe Wi-Fi connection:
- Use a virtual private network (VPN) when using an unsecured connection. It will encrypt your data and can conceal your geolocation by using a server in another state or country. Try one of these cheap VPNs.
- Change the default password on devices in your home, such as your wireless router.
2. Use Antivirus Software
Security software protects your devices from threats like phishing, spyware, rogue websites and adware. Always keep your software updated. Each operating system has different antivirus capabilities, as we describe below but you might want to add additional protection:
- PC users: Windows 10 has a built-in Microsoft Windows Defender software, therefore you likely don’t need separate antivirus software. For older operating systems or those who want extra security, check out CNet recommendations for the best anti-virus protection for Windows 10.
- Mac users: If you download apps only from the Mac App store, you shouldn’t need additional virus protection, as Macs tend to be quite secure. However, those who download regularly from the internet, consider one of these security options for antivirus protection.
3. Use Strong Passwords
A strong password is one of the best protections for your online privacy. Use these guidelines to ensure password safety:
- Passwords should be 12 or more characters and include capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
- Don’t use common words, names, phone numbers or your address.
- Use a different password for each website.
- A password manager app creates and remembers complex unique passwords for each site. Refer to Wired’s list of favorite password managers.
- Use two-factor authentication whenever possible. This involves two steps to log in, such as a password, plus a thumbprint or code received by text.
4. Back-Up Your Data
Losing data, whether business files or personal documents, can be catastrophic. Files could be destroyed accidentally, by loss of a device or through a ransomware attack. Experts recommend backing up your system weekly in multiple locations. Here are a few back-up options to explore:
- Cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive or Microsoft One Drive can sync to your account online and across multiple devices. The software scans your computer periodically and saves any new data. While not technically backup services, these can allow you to recover files.
- An external hard drive connected to your computer through a USB port lets you back up your data to that drive. A downside to this method is that your data could be lost to fire or theft.
- Internet backup services, such as Backblaze and Carbonite will store your encrypted data on their servers for a fee, about $5 per month. For more info on backing up your data, read What’s the best way to back up my computer?
5. Foil Phishing
Phishing occurs when hackers send texts or emails that appear to be from legitimate businesses. The intent is to trick you into providing personal information or clicking a link that installs malware. Common ploys include:
- Email from a bank, delivery company or other company asking you to update your account information.
- Text from delivery services such as UPS or FedEx asking you to click a link regarding an attempted delivery.
- Email claiming an issue with your payment or suspicious account activity.
- Spoofed email addresses that match a co-worker or boss’s name, with emails asking you to purchase gift cards for a promotion or event.
Use these methods to prevent phishing:
- Keep security software up to date.
- Check the sender’s email address by putting your cursor on the sender’s name in your inbox. Be sure the email address matches the company name.
- Check official emails for typos, these are a red flag. Remember that a business email will use your name, not “Dear Customer.”
- Don’t click links in suspicious emails and instant messages.
- Block suspicious emails or mark them as spam.
- Watch out for pop-ups. Often, these, too are phishing attempts. Use a pop-up blocker in your browser.
- Freelancers should be cautious about providing personal data requested by unknown clients. They should not need a social security number, date of birth or bank account information.
Stay Aware and Cautious to Protect Your Online Privacy
Protecting your privacy online takes common sense and healthy skepticism. Remember to stay aware and alert, especially for those who work predominantly online. If something seems weird, off or strange, follow your gut instinct. Using the above five steps will provide excellent protection for your online privacy .