The trend toward working from home or working remotely had already begun well before COVID forced us to turn our dining room tables into desks. As we increasingly work from home, so does our need for personal cyber security. Let’s take a look at these 9 personal cyber security tips.
1. Secure Your Wi-Fi Network
The first place you should start for personal cyber security is your point of connection: your home wireless router. Be sure that you’re using a strong and unique password and WPA2 security. For more information on how to secure your wi-fi router, check out this guide from Wired magazine.
2. Get A Password Manager
Password managers are nothing new, although the eternal question remains: are they more secure than the old-school piece of paper filed away in a drawer? Neither system is foolproof. However, a password manager will allow you to create, store and access passwords that are more secure than the old pen-and-paper method.
I use 1Password, but I know plenty of people who use Dashlane and LastPass and they all seem fairly equivalent to one another. If you’re not comfortable using the cloud to store your passwords, most of these options will allow you to disable that feature and store everything locally on one device.
3. Turn On Two-Factor Authentication
Right after you’ve squared your passwords away, start enabling two-factor authentication for critical accounts wherever it’s available. For banks, investment accounts or other logins where security is critical, two-factor authentication adds one more layer of security.
Out of all our personal cyber security tips, this is one that people resist fairly frequently. I hope you’re not so busy that an extra few seconds isn’t worth the additional security it provides.
4. Get a VPN
I don’t recommend trying to log into any personal accounts while you’re using public wi-fi. Instead, use your phone to create a wireless bridge to connect if you have to. But if you have to access the internet using public wi-fi, always use a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
I use TunnelBear and have been very happy with it, but there are dozens of other services available. It’s not an expensive service and if you’re using public wi-fi frequently, it’s well worth it.
5. Install Anti-Virus Software
For all you Windows-based folks out there, anti-virus software is a must. While some folks still swear that Macs don’t need anti-virus software, it’s still good practice. I use Malwarebytes and it doesn’t bog the operating system down as the old Norton programs did back in the early 2000s. Be sure and set it up for regular virus scans.
6. Watch For Phishing
We’re all bombarded with email these days, so it’s easy to get in a hurry and click on a link in an email that looks “official”. Get in the habit of maintaining a healthy amount of suspicion around emails that ask you to log into your accounts. Instead, navigate to the website directly through your browser instead. Of course, if an individual is emailing you for something, you can always look them up and call them to confirm it’s legit.
7. Don’t Share Your PII
What is PII? It’s your Personally Identifiable Information. This would include things like your Social Security Number, address or birthdate. If you can, avoid sending any PII over email, especially if it could be used to compromise your accounts.
If you need to share any PII with your CPA, financial advisor or attorney, be sure they use a secured document sharing site of some fashion.
8. Check Your Credit
It’s not the most exciting thing you can do on any given Friday night, but checking your free annual credit report is always a good idea. Go to annualcreditreport.com to access the free, government-mandated report. When you’re there, make sure that the information is accurate and no new, unfamiliar accounts have been opened in the last year.
9. Freeze Your Credit
If you aren’t planning to get a credit check or open any new lines of credit in the near future, freezing your credit is a great way to protect your accounts from being hacked. To do this, you’ll have to contact each of the three credit monitoring agencies individually and have them place a freeze on your credit. It’s a little bit of a pain, but the extra layer of security may be worth it to you. I froze my credit a few years ago and it hasn’t been an issue for me.
Ever since the Equifax data breach, there’s no longer a cost to freeze or unfreeze your credit. Just be sure and go directly through the agencies and skip any services that want you to pay them for freezing your credit.
BONUS: Sign Up For Credit Monitoring
If you want to be alerted about any changes in your credit, sign up for a credit monitoring service. You’ll have to do this before you freeze your credit, however. Think of this as an alarm system for your credit; it won’t prevent anything from happening, but it will alert you if something goes wrong.
Credit monitoring services aren’t right for everybody. Some are paid and some are free. Personally, I’m kind of suspicious of them all. What data are they collecting?
However, I wanted to include it on this list. But because of these issues, I don’t use it personally.
Why Cyber Security?
Cyber security is just one piece of your financial puzzle. Over my career, I’ve seen a couple of instances where hackers found their way into a client’s email service and attempted to gain access to their accounts. Fortunately, in these cases, they were not successful. If you follow these personal cyber security tips, you give yourself more protection from would-be cyber thieves.
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As a fee-only financial advisor in Atlanta, we can (and do) work virtually with clients all across the U.S. and we’re here to help you when you’re ready.