You probably read about WannaCry, the ransomware virus that locked up around 200,000 computers in 150 countries last month. And around the same time, hackers were tricking Gmail users into downloading a file containing a virus from what appeared to be trusted email contacts.
It’s getting harder and harder to stay safe online these days, especially if you didn’t grow up with a laptop in your backpack and a smartphone in your hand. We live so much of our lives online that if even one of your accounts is breached, the rest of them are likely at risk. Restoring your email account can be a hassle. But if your financial info gets hacked? That can be a real nightmare.
We’re in the middle of “Dads and Grads” shopping season, so there’s a good chance that you or one of your loved ones will be unwrapping a new computer, tablet, or smartphone soon. No matter how internet savvy you are, this is a good time to review some tips on how to stay safe online. I hope you’ll share this list with other friends or family whose technology may be at risk of breach.
Stay Safe Online Tips:
1. Always update your devices.
The majority of the computers affected by WannaCry were running Windows 7. Why did hackers target a nearly ten-year-old operating system? Because nearly 50% of the world’s computers still use it, and Microsoft doesn’t update it anymore. Incredibly, over 7% of all computers still run Windows XP, which is fifteen years old.
Consumers are often hesitant to upgrade their devices because they don’t want to learn a new system. Many small business owners don’t want to invest in new software or hardware. But whether you’re on Windows or Mac, iPhone or Android, skipping updates puts your devices at risk. Those updates aren’t just cosmetic – they also include important security patches to protect your devices from the latest threats and keep your personal information safe online. The latest versions of Windows 10 even include basic antivirus and firewall software for an extra line of defense, both of which you should have running.
2. 12345 … hacked.
You’re only as safe online as your passwords are strong. 12345, any part of your name, your phone number – these are all examples of weak passwords an experienced hacker will crack easily. Another common mistake is reusing passwords across all your accounts, which puts all your info at risk if one account is hacked. Strong passwords combine upper and lowercase letters with symbols and numbers, but they’re difficult to remember. Setting up a password manager takes a lot of the hassle out of keeping your credentials organized and secure.
3. Think before your click.
One of the easiest ways to stay safe online is just to say no if a potential click looks suspicious. Is it unusual for one of your contacts to be sending you a file to review? Then call that person before you download. Is there a strange misspelling in that link that was just forwarded to you? It’s probably taking you somewhere you don’t want to go. Is your browser warning you that this online store might not be secure? Shop somewhere else. That unsecure Wi-Fi network whose name you don’t recognize? Connect to a different one.
4. Review, backup, and shred your financial documents.
Setting your bills to autopay can be a real time-saver. But don’t let that convenience lull you into ignoring your monthly statements. Make sure you check your bills for any suspicious charges you didn’t authorize. Double check your automatic paycheck deposits and any auto-withdrawals you have set up. Use your cell phone to scan or photograph any important documents and save them to a secure computer or cloud service account, and shred anything you don’t need.
Finally, when tax season rolls around, consider hiring a pro. Hackers rarely break into the commercial systems people use to file their taxes online, but it does happen. I’ve known folks who’ve lost their refund checks, or their Social Security numbers. It can take years for the government to correct those kinds of thefts. Working with a tax professional doesn’t just help maximize your refund, it may give your financial information an added level of security.
5. Take online attacks seriously.
When I first saw warnings about that Gmail scam in my Facebook feed, I took a moment to read up about it. Not 15 minutes later, a “friend of a friend” emailed asking me to review a file attachment. If I hadn’t done a little research, or if I’d thought, “Nah, that won’t happen to me,” I might have downloaded that malicious file, and compromised my personal online info.
If you want to stay safe online, realize that, yes, these kinds of attacks can happen to you. Read up on the big attacks and what you need to do to protect yourself. If you’re still learning about technology, don’t be afraid to ask someone more experienced, especially if you’re new to using the internet to manage your finances.
Unfortunately, the next big hack is probably right around the corner. Lock up your personal info and your money now, and you won’t be fretting to your Facebook friends about stolen accounts later.
Bill Keen is a CHARTERED RETIREMENT PLANNING COUNSELOR℠ and independent financial advisor with more than 24 years of industry experience. As the founder and CEO of Keen Wealth Advisors, a registered investment advisory firm, he specializes in providing personalized retirement planning designed to help people thrive before and during their retirement years. With a passion for educating others, Bill regularly blogs about retirement planning, hosts the podcast Keen on Retirement, and has contributed to U.S. News and World Report, Reuters, Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch, Yahoo Finance, and other publications. Based in Overland Park, Kansas, Bill and his team work with clients throughout the greater Kansas City area and across the nation. To learn more, connect with him on LinkedIn or visit www.keenwealthadvisors.com.
Keen Wealth Advisors is a Registered Investment Adviser. Nothing within this commentary constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Keen Wealth Advisors manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed here. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.