It seems as though everyone is talking about cyber crime lately. From the latest big business to be hacked to the lack of security on the average iPhone, everyone us concerned with increasing digital security. The entire world is connected to the internet. From desktop computers and servers that contain huge amounts of critical financial and personal information for dozens of customers to the phones and tablets that may individuals carry with them everywhere, it seems as though nothing is any more secure than the next good hack–and unfortunately, even security professionals often feel as though they’re working several steps behind the people trying to break through that security, patching holes as they’re found rather than being able to work proactively to prevent them from occurring in the first place. You might even wonder if dropping off the grid completely is the only way to keep your information private! While keeping yourself completely hack-proof is impossible, there are several steps you can take to ensure that your critical information is more secure.

Be Scam Savvy

Most people know not to enter their credit card information when an unknown number calls to tell them that their company is experiencing problems or to give out their passwords simply because someone asked for them. Unfortunately, the vast majority of hackers who are seeking access to a company’s network are still able to do so most easily through simple social engineering. A few common scams:

“I’m so-and-so from the IT department…” In many large companies, the IT department’s personnel information is available on the internet. A simple web search and a few simple clicks is all that’s needed for a scammer to discover everything that’s needed to call in and pretend to be a member of the IT department. If you aren’t on the lookout, you’ll find yourself giving out important information without ever realizing it.

Fake log-in pages are also increasingly common. Any time you click a link from an email, you have the potential to find yourself visiting a webpage that’s merely a very good copy of the one you think you’re supposed to be visiting. Get in the habit of typing in web addresses yourself, especially for important locations: your bank, PayPal, and anywhere that you might enter your financial information.

Emails from “trusted” individuals or sites should only be trusted if you recognize the email address. Most institutions will not contact you through email about a problem with your account, and if they do, you should be sure to log in directly, through your normal link, rather than clicking on the link within the email.

Hackers who take over your friends’ accounts are particularly vicious. Often, it’s hard to tell what’s coming from a friend and what’s coming from someone that they have unwittingly allowed control of their account. They’ve sent you an email about something you’ve “just got to check out” or included a link to a “fantastic video you just have to see.” Before you know it, you’ve clicked on a malicious link, and there’s malware on your machine. It’s a good idea, for this reason, to never click on a link that was simply sent with no message attached. If it really was a friend who sent it to you, they’ll say something about it to you later, and you can check it out then.

Prizes you didn’t really win are scammers’ favorite way to suck you in. Who would turn down free money? A free trip sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Here’s the thing: most companies don’t go around randomly handing out prizes. If you don’t remember entering a contest, it’s probably best to delete that email.

Check Records Regularly

When big businesses are hacked and customers’ information is compromised, they typically let their customers know as soon as possible. Smaller businesses, on the other hand, might not even realize that the hack has occurred. From skimmers installed on gas pumps to hackers who manage to acquire credit card information from a small business’s insecure network, it’s unfortunately easy for your financial data to be compromised. Some scammers are incredibly savvy about this process: they know that you’re likely to notice a huge purchase when it goes missing from your account, but you might not take note of $5, $10, or even $20. Some people might not even notice $100 going missing, as long as it didn’t happen all at once. Those small amounts aren’t noticeable alone, but they add up to big numbers when thieves are able to target dozens of individuals.

To keep yourself from being the victim of such a scam, make sure that you’re checking your records regularly. If you still receive paper bank statements, take a minute to look over them when they come in each month and make sure you recognize all the transactions. Otherwise, check out your online banking records regularly. Double check credit card statements before making payments. Look over your health care records occasionally, and check your credit reports every couple of years to make sure that there’s nothing showing up that you don’t recognize. Keeping track of your own records is a great way to ensure that you haven’t been a victim of cyber crime.

Watch Those Passwords

When you got your first email account, your password was probably something simple–a name or word you could remember, more than likely. If you mixed it up, it might have been a series of recognizable numbers: your birthday, your parents’ anniversary, or your phone number. Today’s passwords, however, have to be a great deal more complicated. You aren’t just dealing with savvy hackers who can quickly try common words or numbers that might be associated with you. You’re also dealing with programs that will try combinations until they get it right. You can’t make your passwords completely uncrackable, but you can decrease the odds that someone will be able to access your information easily.

The longer, the better. Longer strings of characters are more difficult for both computers and hackers to guess. A long password also decreases the odds that you’re using a common word or name.

Random is best. A random series of letters, numbers, and other characters is the best way to confuse a hacker. Try, for example, using the first letter of each word in a phrase or quote you’ll recognize.

Don’t use just numbers or just letters. You don’t necessarily have to have a minimum of one capital letter, one lower case letter, one number, and one special character to make your password secure, but the more of those things you use, the more you’ll increase your odds of remaining secure.

Use different passwords. This is the one that really hurts for many individuals. You can remember one password. You can even remember variations on one password, like adding a number or a special character, that are a result of adhering to websites’ security protocols. Remembering vastly different passwords, however, is much more difficult. It’s also the best way to stay secure. Consider at least using different passwords for your bank, anywhere you pay bills or list financial information online, and any healthcare organizations you visit online. Some scammers will have you create a login for a site that doesn’t really need one–coupon websites, deals offers, or contests–and then use that information to try to access more private data.

Starting to feel as though going completely off the grid is a better idea all the time? Unfortunately, we now live in the digital age, and unless you plan to avoid most of the conveniences of modern society, there’s no way to erase yourself from the internet completely. By taking a few simple steps to protect yourself, however, you’re much more likely to be able to keep your identity, your personal information, and your banking data secure. Looking for more information about what the future of cyber security might hold? Contact us today to learn more.