These days, most people use the Internet and one or more forms of digital technology to communicate with friends and family and to perform several different duties in their places of work. While technology has made everyone’s lives a lot easier than ever before, this does unfortunately leave a lot of personal information vulnerable to being hacked or phished by cybercriminals.

Information provided by the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) Scamwatch noted that almost $73 million had been lost to consumers in scams during 2017. $2.7 million of this amount was attributed to phishing hacking attempts to obtain various forms of personal information.

Whenever you use any form of digital technology to connect to the internet, it is crucial to ensure that your personal information is kept secure. Personal information should also not be provided unless it is to a reliable and trusted source.

Below is some handy information with regards to keeping your personal information such as mobile device security, usernames, passwords, banking details and other sensitive data as secure as possible:

  1. Phishing via Messaging and/or Email

This form of attack is used by cybercriminals to coerce you into providing your personal information such as bank account details, debit or credit card numbers, usernames and passwords.

Phishing occurs when a cybercriminal sends you a message via email or on a social media platform email that attempts to manipulate you into believing that the content is genuine to the point where you feel compelled to take action. For example, the message or email will appear to be from your bank or even another institution where you hold an account and it will request that you click on a link in it to provide updated information or open an attachment that is contained in it.

Falling prey to messages like these and clicking on links contained in them will not only compromise your personal information; it can leave your computer highly vulnerable to being infected with viruses, malware and spyware.

It is possible to protect your personal information by learning to recognise the signs of some of the more common phishing attempts. For example:

  • A generic greeting is used in the message such as, “Dear Client,” instead of addressing you by name and surname
  • The message requests information such as bank account numbers or passwords – your bank will never send emails of this nature to you
  • The message contains grammatical and/or spelling errors, a personal sending email address has been used (think Hotmail or Yahoo) and/or the signature doesn’t contain nay information regarding how the company can be contacted
  • The message demands that some form of immediate action be taken or it creates a sense of extreme urgency. For example, ‘there was an unauthorised login on your account.’

Keep these points in mind as well before responding to a suspicious message or email:

  • Always check the email address up in the ‘header from’ section of the message. Never rely on the display name alone because cybercriminals are able to spoof the display name of any email address these days
  • Before you click on a link contained in a message or email, move your mouse cursor over it when using a desktop or laptop computer or hold your finger down on it if using a tablet or phone. This will allow you to see the address or destination of where the message will take you. After doing this, you must confirm that the destination being shown is a match for the one in the message or email and that it will in fact take you to the legitimate company’s website
  • In cases where messages and emails contain links, it is crucial to be wary of the fact that these can – and often do – contain harmful malware. This is why you should only open attachments from reliable and trusted sources
  • Cybercriminals have even perfected the art of sending messages or emails that appear to have been sent by friends, family or even colleagues. This means that if you receive something from anyone you know, but the tone of the message doesn’t seem right or it is not something that you know they would have sent, it may be a good idea to call them and confirm whether they sent it or not

Browsers

Browsers are the most common method to interact with the Internet. For instance, when searching online for any information, you will need to use a browser such as Firefox, Chrome, Opera or Safari. While this makes your internet experience as convenient as possible, it also provides an ideal playground got cybercriminals because it makes it easy for them to obtain your sensitive information such as passwords, bank account numbers etc.

Below is some useful information that will help protect your personal information while using an Internet browser:

  • Always use the most updated version of your chosen browser because it will be supplied with the latest security patches. This makes it more challenging for a cybercriminal to access
  • Only install an add-on or plugin if it is totally necessary because these can sometimes render your browser more vulnerable to cyber attacks. After installing any of these, always ensure that they are fully updated as well. Add-ons and plugins are types of software that can be incorporated into your browser to provide additional features like removing advertising, editing text or even shopping online
  • If you are going to visit a specific website and your browser pops up a warning stating that it could potentially be unsafe, rather close it and try to find an alternative that your browser deems to be safe
  • Before sharing any personal information online such as bank account or credit card details, check and ensure that the browser you are using is displaying HTTPS. This can be located in your browser’s address bar – the address must start with HTTPS and a padlock must be displayed as well. This will mean that the site is appropriately encrypted so that only you and the website in question will be able to decipher it
  • After you have finished visiting a website that has required you to provide login details and other personal information, ensure that you log off completely. This will remove your personal data lie usernames and passwords

Mobile Device Security

Mobile devices have the ability to store a phenomenal amount of confidential information these days, so it is essential to see that they are also appropriately protected when using them to access the Internet.

The information below can assist with this:

  • Always disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities when they are not being use because this will help prevent your phone from automatically connecting to networks that are unsafe without your knowledge
  • Enable a screen lock such as a swipe pattern or strong password. Also consider using the options of remote wiping if it is available. This will enable you to delete all of your personal data in the event of your phone being stolen or mislaid
  • Only install mobile apps from reliable and trusted sources and be sure to consider any permission that an app requires when it is being installed. This will help protect your phone against apps that could contain malware or viruses. As with browsers, it is essential to always use the latest versions of any apps on your phone

Passwords

Passwords are not only used to log into your internet-enabled devices – they are there to help protect any personal information you have. As a result, you must ensure that you choose the strongest possible passwords when setting up accounts that will require the use of your personal information.

Keep these tips in mind when creating passwords:

  • Avoid using information about yourself that is relatively easy to obtain such as date of birth, names of children or pets, the place you were born or live etc.
  • Do not use consecutive strings of letters or numbers like 123456, abcdef etc.
  • Avoid using obvious passwords such as password, Google, admin, login etc.
  • Instead, consider using a passphrase because this will help make your password more difficult to decipher. For example, the phrase, “Comfortable Retirement Goals” can be strengthened by adding numbers so it reads, “4omfortable 4etirement 6oals.” A combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols should be incorporated into your passphrase to make it as secure as possible

Another great way to enhance the security of your online accounts is to make use of two-step authentication whenever it is made available. This involves using your password, along with a code that gets sent to your phone or email account, to log into the relevant account.

After creating strong passwords, it is also important to exercise caution when using them. For instance, you should be using a different password for each of your devices and online accounts such as bank accounts and social media profiles. If you are having difficulty remembering all of your usernames and passwords, using a reliable password manager can assist you with this. These programs have been designed to securely store all of your usernames and passwords. This means that you will only have to remember the login information for the password manager.

If you have any reason to believe that your usernames and/or passwords have been compromised in any way, it is strongly recommended that you change them as soon as possible.

While this may not be a complete list of information to help you protect your sensitive information, it does note the fact that cybercriminals are extremely vigilant and active across virtually all channels online. However, you will be able to keep your information as secure as possible by implementing the above-mentioned information when selecting new account usernames and passwords.