4 Online Habits You Should Develop To Protect Your Money And Identity

As more of work and life happens online, we open ourselves up to a host of new risks and dangers. While it’s easy to think it’ll never happen to you, taking simple precautions to stay safe online is well worth the effort. Hackers have already been responsible for more than $145,000 of financial loss so far in 2018 alone, and 75 per cent of hacking has occurred through breach of mobile devices. Despite popular belief, we’re all at risk.

Here are some habits you can pick up to make life on your laptop run that little bit smoother and safer with help from Dr Cate Jerram, cybersecurity researcher at the University of Adelaide. 

Change your passwords regularly

As dull and high maintenance it is to change your passwords, it’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself online.

You never know which of your accounts are weakest to a breach, so be sure to change your passwords regularly, and don’t use the same password for everything.

Dr Jerram recommends varying your passwords, especially for your most sensitive accounts.

“Have different passwords – really different, not just a different number on the end of the same one – for all your critical accounts that most need protecting, [eg, your bank login], then a few different ones for important but not so critical sites, then a couple of ‘general purpose’ logins for things that require login but are not really that important.”

In terms of what to include in passwords, Dr Jerram suggests creating passwords that are easy for you as a human to remember, but difficult for a machine or hacker to decode. One way to achieve both is by using pass phrases instead of passwords.

“The best way to create memorable, hard-to-crack passwords is to have whole phrases (pass phrases), for example: ‘I was born in in 2031 in Singapore, with cake in my hand’. Make the sentence one that relates to the site you are making it for, so you’ll remember it.” Dr Jerram says.

She also suggests using two-factor authentication wherever you can. “It’s annoying,” she says. “But it’s so much safer.”

These days, passwords are about all that stands between people who want to steal your money or your data and your most sensitive information. It’s in your best interest to make it as difficult as you can.

Stay informed

It’s easy to fall into a false sense of security and feel like you know what’s going on with your information. But you can never know what information your social media sites are giving up unless you check.

Dr Jerram recommends regularly checking in with your various social sites’ policies, and deciding what you’re willing to give up.

“Social media sites often change their security and privacy policy overnight, and too frequently without warning others.”

You can also subscribe to Stay Smart Online’s email alert services if you want the latest in cyber safety sent to you.

Watch everything going in and out of your computer 

Life on the internet can easily make everything streamlined, but Dr Jerram warns against getting too complacent. Constant vigilance is the key to staying safe online.

“If it involves money at all, don’t use the website unless the URL starts with ‘https//’,” Dr Jerram says. This signals that there are extra layers of security and encryption for that website.

“When you are about to click on a hyperlink, check what URL the hover bar tells you it will go to first – make sure it matches where you’re supposed to be going”

Making an effort to check you’re using legitimate sources can protect you from phishing – which has claimed over $22,000 in 2018 alone.

Internal threats aside, Dr Jerram also warns against potential malware that could be installed through an external drive.

“Never install a USB you don’t know- especially if you picked it up off the floor and street.”

In the same way you’re vigilant of everyone you invite to your house, exercising discretion when it comes to what you welcome into your computer can mean the difference between a safe online experience and a catastrophic loss.

Back up your data

Backing up data not only reduces the clog on your computer, but it gives all your data a refuge in case your main device becomes compromised.

“If a device is infected, you can cut your losses, delete everything, and reinstall.” Dr Jerram says.

At the end of the day, being a responsible online citizen is all about being aware of the risks and taking steps to mitigate them. A little bit each day goes a long way towards keeping you and your sensitive information safe online.

“You invest three minutes a day brushing your teeth to protect your dental health,” says Dr Jerram. “Surely you can invest 5 minutes a day protecting your financial and identity health.”

Kim is a freelance writer based in Melbourne. Her work has been featured in Junkee, Archer Magazine, Global Hobo and more. She’s also a regular contributor over at neutral.love, which works to break down stigmas surrounding sex and relationships. When she’s not writing, she’s sitting at home bullet journalling. You can tweet at her @mirroreyedgazer.