How important is online security to you? Do you overshare on Facebook? Use the same password for all websites? Then you’re definitely a target for cyber crime.
Hackers want your details to commit ID fraud and steal money. They’ll use your PIN, your cat’s name, or where you’re going on holiday. They’ll even hack your hard drive and hold your files to ransom. But the good news is, there’s a lot you can do to prevent cyber crime and avoid this from happening.
“Even after 20 years of the Internet, your biggest online security risk is still inadequate passwords,” says Tony Neate, CEO of Get Safe Online, a website that provides free expert advice on online safety.
How to reduce your chances of cyber crime:
Use different passwords on different sites
“The most popular form of hacking is still password guessing. Hackers skim your Facebook account to deduce that it’s your child’s name or your date of birth – 80% of people use ‘password’ as their password, which is a cyber criminal’s dream,” says Tony.
Have a different password for every account
e-mail, AppleID, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and so on – and make it a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols.
Don’t reuse your main e-mail password
A hacker who cracks this will then have the keys to your online kingdom. It’s also critical to always sign out from every account.
Get two-step verification
If your e-mail provider (like Gmail or Yahoo!) offers this service, use it. In addition to typing in your password, a code is sent to your phone every 30 days. You have to type this in as well as your password. It means the hacker can’t access your e-mail without your phone. You have to provide a back-up number in case your phone is lost, too.
Easy steps to be secure
Swap “passwords” for “passphrases”
They’re easier to remember and harder to crack. Use the first line of a favourite saying, poem or song, for example, “Always look on the bright side of life”, and turn it into an acronym – “Al0tbs0l”, using zeros (0) instead of “o”. Add a couple of asterisks, and you have a very strong passcode. Write down “favourite song” as your passphrase hint to look at when you need to jog your memory.
Switch to a spam- and virus-filtered e-mail service
Gmail is a good example. This service doesn’t allow you to receive (or send) files that can install viruses as e-mail attachments.
Start fresh every time
Never press the “remember me” button to automatically log on to websites. If their security is breached, the hackers have your details.
Note your phone’s IMEI number
This is important so that your phone can be barred from accessing networks if it’s stolen, and deactivate other services such as the Internet. Simply enter *#06# into your phone number pad and the code should appear. Write it somewhere safe, and if your phone’s stolen, you can give the number to your service provider (like Vodacom, MTN or Cell C) who can bar the thief from using it on their network.
Avoid using Wi-Fi hotspots
These open networks are ripe for hackers to access your computer. If you’re using a phone, switch to your mobile Internet. If you do use an open network, say in a hotel or bar, then avoid online banking or shopping.
Locked out of your e-mail account?
If you can’t access your e-mail, look on your provider’s login page – you should see something like “Need help?” or “Can’t access your account?”. Click on that link, and then fill in the relevant details. The provider will then be able to reset your passwords and lock the hacker out again.
If you had lots of personal information stored in your e-mail account, you may need to alert your bank and change the PINs on your credit and debit cards, or even cancel them and get new ones. Also change the passwords on all of your other website accounts. Get a credit check to assess whether you’re a victim of fraud, and keep a close check for the next year or so.
Think before you share on social media
“It’s amazing how many people carefully shred bank statements, but then happily tweet a picture of their funky new credit card, or post the date and time of their holiday,” says Tony Neate. “Criminals trawl social sites for every scrap of personal information to steal and commit ID fraud, and you have no idea who’s looking at your site or why. There is a frightening trend known as “social grooming” or “social engineering”, where con artists get to know as much about you as they can in order to “friend”’ you, or send you e-mails, or even phone you to try to get close enough to manipulate you.”
Create a strong password, beware who you “friend”, and use the highest level of privacy settings. Un-friend anyone who is just an acquaintance, and use as few personal details as possible, removing your home address, phone number, date of birth and anything else that could be used to fake your identity. Never give information or dates about holidays, travel plans, bank or credit-card details. Say no to social-media invites from people you don’t know. You wouldn’t invite that odd-looking man on the Gautrain home for drinks, would you? It’s the same thing. The rule is, if you wouldn’t be happy seeing it on the front of a national newspaper, don’t post it.
Ignore unsolicited calls
Internet service providers (ISPs) will never call and ask you to log on. Ignore any unsolicited calls about your Internet connection or your computer generally. These include requests for any personal information such as PINs, ID number and date of birth.
Beware of emails
Don’t trust everything that comes into your e-mail. We’re all familiar with the obvious scams pretending to be from banks or network operators, but a recent phishing mail was disguised as a security warning from Microsoft’s digital-crimes unit asking recipients to click on a link to clear viruses. Never click on a link in an e-mail that you didn’t expect to receive, and never type in personal information.
No reputable company, bank or government agency will ever ask for account numbers, PINs or passwords via e-mail. If you receive a fantastic holiday offer on e-mail, which looks too good to be true, it probably is. Bin them all, and if you’re not sure, phone the organisation.
A freelance writer and editor, with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. With a passion for health and fitness, Tammy loves nothing more than researching the latest wellness trends. And if she’s not running around after her sweet four-year old daughter, you’ll find Tammy on her bike, in the gym or exploring the great outdoors – followed by a good coffee, of course!