Have you experienced being redirected to a random web page after clicking the site you intend to visit? Does your browser get an unusually high number of popup advertisements? Do you have hundreds of spam emails lurking in your inbox?
Chances are, you have poor browsing habits that put your privacy and online safety at risk. It doesn't help the fact that the internet is filled with cybercriminals that are after your personal information. According to the 2016 Internet Security Threat Report by Symantec, over 75% of legitimate websites have major security vulnerabilities that hackers can easily exploit.
One of the worst things that can happen is to have your credit card number stolen and be thousands of dollars in debt for purchases you didn't make. A more common scenario, however, is to get infected by malware that only compromises the performance of your device or the quality of your online browsing experience.
If you value your online privacy and the integrity of your internet-enabled devices, below are seven security tips that will give you greater peace of mind:
1. Update Your Applications and Device Firmware
Companies rollout product software updates for several reasons. Apart from introducing new features and fixing bugs, these updates also keep you safe from new security threats that rise every single day. According to Kaspersky Lab, 323,000 pieces of new malware are released every single day as of December 2016; these include backdoors, ransomware, Trojans, and viruses.
2. Double-Check the Site's Address
Checking the website's address before clicking anywhere else has two benefits. Firstly, it will prevent you from providing your login credentials to a fake site. And secondly, it helps you verify that the website has a valid TLS or SSL certificate. This means any information you enter to the site, like your username and password, is protected via encryption. Fortunately, major web browsers like Chrome and Firefox will provide a warning before taking you to a potentially harmful site.
3. Use Strong Passwords
Passwords prevent unauthorized access to the services and websites you use online. According to studies, it will take a hacker up to 429 billion years to guess a strong password that uses a combination of numbers, symbols, and letters with different cases. That's why using a strong password is a must, especially when it comes to your main email account. Once a hacker gains access to your emails, it's only a matter of time before they can hack into all the other services you use - from social media sites to online banking.
4. Use a Password Manager
A password manager will not only enable you to use strong passwords for all your online accounts, it will also prevent you from accidentally providing your login credentials to phishing websites. "Aside from password-keeping, password managers conveniently check the legitimacy of a website's URL before providing any information," says Richard of DarkWebNews.com. "If you don't take care of your passwords, someone else will." Today, some of the most popular password managers are LastPass, KeePass, and Dashlane.
5. Keep Your Social Media Accounts Private
Having a public social media account is risky because it exposes sensitive information to potential hackers. This includes your phone number, your pet's name, the name of your first school, and so on. Furthermore, having a public account leaves you vulnerable to bots that promote other brands or share links to potentially harmful sites. That's why you should keep your personal social media accounts private to fully control who can see the information you post and share about yourself.
6. Use Incognito When Borrowing Devices
Forgetting to log out from your friend's device usually ends up in a harmless prank. Still, your data might be at risk if that device is infected with malware. That said, be sure to use the private or "incognito" browsing windows to automatically clear your data after closing the browser. This is important if you use computers from a public library or an internet café.
7. Avoid Connecting to Public WiFi Networks
Here's a quick fact - if everyone can access a WiFi network, then it's not secure. Connecting to a public WiFi network leaves you vulnerable to hackers that can intercept and steal any information you provide during your browsing session. This can include your login credentials, credit card number, and crucial contact information.
Bonus: Read before Clicking "Next"
When installing software, especially the ones that can be downloaded for free, make sure the installation process doesn't include extras like search engines and browser toolbars. In some cases, malicious entities use these third-party software to display popup ads, alter search engine results, and track your online behavior. If you really need the core software, read every step of the installation process to disable these add-ons before proceeding.