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Scared to get hacked? Use these digital protection strategies

By Cassandra Jaramillo/The Dallas Morning News (TNS) • Apr 23, 2017 at 4:00 PM

How vulnerable is simple, personal information from your computer or cellphone?

The brutal reality: very vulnerable — potentially. Here’s some ways to navigate online safely.

PASSWORD MANAGEMENT

It’s no surprise that changing your password has always been a basic form of protection. But what we pick as passwords and how we manage them are important, said Murat Kantarcioglu, professor and director at the Data Security and Privacy Lab at the University of Texas at Dallas.

First, passwords should never include your personal info. So stay away from names and birthdates. Ideally, passwords are a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters and random characters.

“You want a very strong, long password. It doesn’t have any personal information,” Kantarcioglu said.

It can be harder to remember, but that’s why password managers are good to use for some websites. Kantarcioglu does not recommend using password manager apps for sites that have sensitive information. So for health care and financial sites, it’s best to work that memory to remember them without keeping them in a manager.

VIEW EMAILS WITH A SKEPTICAL EYE

Deceptive phishing is one of the most common types of scams. Kantarcioglu said it’s best to view all emails with care. Hackers can make emails look like legitimate company emails and can lure readers to click on dangerous links. You could end up introducing a virus to your computer or inadvertently giving sensitive information to the wrong people.

It’s best to search the original source of the information and try to find the direct link from the site instead of using the link provided in the email, he said. Or look for the company phone number and call directly to ask about the email.

EMBRACE TWO-FACTOR AUTHENTICATION

Two-factor authentication adds a second level of security to an account. If there’s an option for your email, banking site or social media site to do two-factor authentication, go ahead and do it. It’s a security option that requires a password as well as an additional piece of information only the user would have on them. Sometimes it’s a code sent to your cellphone that has to be entered following a password.

The additional feature can keep your information much safer.

“A hacker has to have your password and mobile device, so it becomes much harder,” Kantarcioglu said.

Updated apps and operating systems are a must

Too often users are reluctant to update their mobile devices. But Kantarcioglu said that while these updates may appear to have only aesthetic changes, they often come with security improvements.

“There may be a bug that is exploited. Those bugs are discovered by cell providers or Apple, so it’s a good idea to upgrade them,” he said.

BEWARE OF PUBLIC CHARGING STATIONS AND WI-FI

Charging stations and Wi-Fi are a convenience provided by public entities, such as festivals and airports. But they can bring risks.

“Sometimes those chargers may be hooked to another compromised device,” Kantarcioglu said. “If you go to a website Wi-Fi, and then it asks for you to download something, I wouldn’t do that.”

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