The 7 Most Common Internet Security Mistakes

Protect your identity and personal information by avoiding these password, virus, and privacy pitfalls.

By Matthew Scholle, Bask Tech Expert

"I have anti-virus protection but somehow I got an infection anyway. How did this happen?"

It's hard to say without knowing more, but chances are the person asking the above question made one of the seven internet security mistakes on this list. Any one of them can lead to a malware or virus infection—or even identity theft.

Mistake #1: Weak passwords

Weak passwords leave your computer, router, and online accounts vulnerable to what are known as "dictionary attacks." This type of attack uses a dictionary to try different words to log in with your password. A short password is easy to remember, but it doesn’t protect you very well. Amazingly, one the most commonly used passwords is "password."


How to Avoid Mistake #1
A strong password should be as long as possible to remember, as random as possible, and a mixture of alphabetic, numeric, and upper/lower case letters. A good example of this is if you wanted to use the word "poetic" for your password, you could change that to "P0et1c" to include capital letters, numbers or other characters. This new password is great because it’s almost impossible for hackers to guess.

We also strongly recommend you change your passwords every few months. You should never use part of your public identity, for a password—e.g., your name, birth date, home street, etc. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep all your passwords straight. Keep all your passwords organized in a contact book, filing each password under the first letter of the name of the program: Your Outlook password would be filed under O. Keep this contact book in a very safe place, away from prying eyes.

Mistake #2: Clicking on links

Clicking on links in emails is convenient but dangerous. A phony or fake email that looks like it’s from your bank may contain a link to a site that looks like your online banking login page (called Phishing) but isn’t. When you enter your username and password on one of these sites, you’re really sending your information to hackers.

Recently there was a scam that involved people receiving an email that looked like it was from FedEx. The email asked for personal information in regards to the delivery of a package. Other examples include emails from major banks—like Chase or Citibank—claiming that the recipient’s credit card has been limited, or that documents require review.

How to Avoid Mistake #2
Instead of clicking on email links, always use the main login for the desired website in your web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari) and log in the hard way. This a small extra step that can save you from identity theft. Opening links in emails or attachments in emails can have dangerous results; it is best to VERIFY the sender and content before opening anything in the email message.

You can also right click on the "from" address in any email to see where it’s come from. If an email is claiming to be from your bank but was sent from a hotmail account, that’s a red flag. Major companies will never ask for your personal information or payment in an email. Always be sure to check the language of the email message; fake emails often contain bad grammar and spelling.

Mistake #3: Not updating your software

Failing to keep software up to date is another common mistake. Most of the Windows Updates issued by Microsoft are security patches that address real and urgent issues. They are not called "critical updates" for nothing. Software programs should also be kept up to date. If you are unsure on how to do such an update, Bask is always willing to help.

Tips to Avoid Mistake #3
Many programs come with automatic update utilities; it’s a good idea to leave them enabled so that you at least get notifications when updates are available. If you are a Bask member, regular TuneUps are every 3 months and help you install critical Windows updates to keep your computer humming along.

Mistake #4: Downloading free software

Downloading free software from an unknown source, especially one that comes to you via email or a pop-up ad, is often a source of infections. Unsolicited freebies may actually be malware in disguise.

Tips to Avoid Mistake #4

You don’t really need a "free virus scan" if you already have antivirus software; just run a program that you can TRUST. Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security is the #1 anti-virus software on the market, and it’s available through Bask.

When you see these "free" offers, read the whole ad, including the small print. If you are uncertain, simply don’t click. A lot of scam ads will offer features they don’t have. You can search online to find out if anyone else has experience with the software you’re looking at.

Mistake #5: Disregarding security questions

Not using security questions is a mistake. Using security questions can protect your online accounts even if someone steals or guesses your password. Security questions also allow us another avenue of account recovery in case of a lost password.

Tips to Avoid Mistake #5
It takes only a minute of effort to add this extra layer of security to your logins. An ever-growing number of web services providers, large and small, are offering security questions for their accounts; Google, Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and online banking sites are just a few examples.

Mistake #6: Not having your wifi password-protected

Leaving your WiFi access without a password to authenticate users, or without other security options is risky. Most high-speed Internet providers supply you with a router that enables wireless—or WiFi—connections in your home. But if it's not set up correctly, WiFi can leave you open to hackers and unauthorized logins to your internet service. Such situations can lead to identity theft, or even legal trouble for you.

Tips to Avoid Mistake #6
Failing to put a password on your WiFi lets anyone within range of your wireless router join your network. If file and printer sharing are also enabled, random passersby may be able to sift through files on every computer on your home or office network. Remember Tips to Avoid Mistake #1, and create a strong password.

Another important tip: Choose WPA or WPA2 encryption, and not WEP. Encryption means that the network is scrambling passwords into characters that no one can understand, keeping hackers from stealing them. WEP is the oldest and weakest encryption method—it’s the easiest for hackers to crack—so you want to avoid using it if you can.

Mistake #7
: Sharing personal information

Putting out too much personal information on social networks, blogs, and other online forums is all too common. It’s often easy for someone to track down the home address and schedule of those who overshare.

Tips to Avoid Mistake #7
Avoid posting your email address, phone number, home address, vacation plans, and other personal info on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Wait until after your big trip to Hawaii to post about it. If you post something as simple as "Hey, I’m off to Scotland for the next week!" you’re practically inviting thieves to help themselves to your belongings.

Also, never share your social security number casually or in a public forum. Failure in this area could lead burglars to your door, give identity thieves an opening to exploit, or have phone call scams sent to your home phone.

In today’s technology-heavy world, it’s imperative that we all understand these kinds of situations, and learn how to avoid them. Be aware and protective of yourself and your personal information online. There is no such thing as being too prepared.


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