For many of us, the internet is an integral part of our lives.
It’s how we work and connect with colleagues, check in on friends and family, get our news, go shopping, do our banking, and spend free time.
While the digital revolution has its benefits — broader access, faster communication, flexible work options — it’s also created a new concern: the rise of cybercrime.
Cybersecurity threats boomed 400% in 2019 and 2020 combined, and the trend is likely only starting.
With so much personal, professional, and financial data living online, it’s paramount to take concrete measures that protect yourself and your finances.
1. Upgrade Your Digital Security
Think of your digital security like an online bodyguard, fending off as many threats as possible.
Do you have cybersecurity software?
If not, add it to your toolbox. A system with anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware protection is essential, especially if you conduct financial business online (which most people do).
There are several options like Norton 360 Lifelock, Bitdefender, McAfee, and more. Some systems also have built-in firewalls, parental controls, password protection, virtual private networks (VPNs), among other benefits.
Most products operate on a yearly subscription, generally costing $100 to $400, depending on the services provided. Prioritize the most sensible features for your needs. For example, if you like to work from different locations or businesses and rely on public networks, you may want a system with robust VPNs which allows you to use a public network more safely.
Extra tips for staying safe while surfing the internet:
- Keep security up-to-date — hackers look for older systems that are easier to breach
- Only access financial information on a secure, encrypted website; encryption helps protect your digital data
- Sites starting with “https” that have a padlock symbol in the search bar are often safe
- Establish 2-step authentication for private information; an example would be using a unique password along with a unique code sent to a pre-approved device (phone, email, etc.)
- Set up a personal firewall to protect your computer against malware
2. Create Strong, Unique Passwords Stored in a Secure Location
Most websites require just two or three elements to log in: username, password, and sometimes an added security step (question, authentication code, etc.).
Your passwords are an essential part of online security.
Your favorite pet, best friend’s name, birthday, graduation date, and wedding anniversary all make common — and easily identifiable — passwords.
Stronger passwords are more secure. Try bolstering your password security by considering the following ideas:
- Stay away from personal information or anything available to the public, like your birthday
- Play with capital letters
- Use a thoughtful mix of characters, symbols, and numbers (if possible)
- Increase the password’s length
- Avoid sequences such as numbers (1, 2, 3), letters (a, b, c), and keys on the keyboard (a, s, d, f, etc.)
No two passwords should be identical. If one site is hacked, you don’t want to leave other areas exposed. Make unique passwords for each account you create — finance information, email, streaming apps, etc.
It’s also wise to update passwords frequently — every few months or so — for extra security. Most research suggests not saving passwords in a “remember me” section of a website; if your device fell into the wrong hands, they could easily open your accounts.
To keep passwords safe, store them in a master file like LastPass or write them down in and store them in a secure location. . You should never share password data via email or other unsecured methods.
3. Don’t Share Sensitive Personal or Financial Information via Email, Text, or Other Unsecured Methods
One of the simplest ways for scammers to get your information is if you give it to them.
Personal information should remain just that — personal.
Don’t share information like your Social Security number, bank information, credit card numbers, log-in credentials, or other financial information with someone you don’t know or trust over an unsecured platform like email, text, or over the phone (in most cases).
While some email platforms are getting better at recognizing and flagging spam messages, hackers can still find their way into your inbox. If you receive an email asking for any personal information, report it as spam and move on.
4. Be Able to Identify Phishing or Other Scams
A solid way to protect yourself online is understanding what scams look like in the first place.
When it comes to emails, don’t click on any links from senders you don’t trust. Sometimes just clicking the link can infect your computer with malware and bugs.
If you aren’t sure an email is safe, reread the text language and remember the following:
- Scammers bring urgency — they don’t want you to sit back and think about the demand. If you see time-sensitive language like “urgently” or “now,” it’s a red flag.
- Many online scams also rely on threatening language or scare tactics to get what they want. If you get an email with this type of language, report the email as spam.
- Check to see if you recognize the sender and ensure the email address looks legit. Sometimes this field can be a dead giveaway something is awry.
- Consider the overall language. Are there grammatical errors and tonal shifts? Was the greeting overly formal or too casual?
- Many phishing emails contain suspicious downloads or links. If you encounter this, avoid downloading or clicking on the material.
Similar tactics are used for phone scams: urgent language, random occurrence, requesting secrecy, etc. Rarely is there anything so urgent that it must be taken care of immediately over the phone.
5. Use Your Personal Computer
Accessing financial information like your brokerage account or credit card on a public computer can cause potential data breaches. You don’t know if a computer has malware already downloaded.
When possible, only access these elements on a personal computer on a private internet connection.
You may not always be able to use your personal computer. If that’s the case, always do the following:
- Completely log out of your account — not just close or minimize the tab
- Delete your browsing history
In general, avoid accessing your financial information on a public computer like the library, for example.
6. Stay Cautious on Public Internet Networks
Many public networks don’t have the same privacy and security settings as private networks. Unless you installed personal security software that comes with VPNs, steer clear of accessing bank information at your local coffee shop or airport lounge.
Also be mindful that wireless wifi networks, in general, aren’t as secure as wired, ethernet connections.
7. Be Careful What You Download
It bears repeating, many hackers include suspicious links or downloads in their emails to you. Be wary of downloading any content from unfamiliar sources.
Just clicking on the “download” button could infect your computer and grant hackers access to your browser, speaker, and even your webcam.
Exercise caution and evaluate the situation before acting.
Online Safety in the Digital Era
Internet use isn’t slowing down, it’s speeding up.
With more and more businesses transitioning to online-only or online-focused operations, you must be equipped with the tools and resources to protect yourself and your information.
The best way to fight cybercrime is to understand what you’re looking for. Steer clear of disclosing personal information to spam emails, keep your information confidential, and log into financial accounts from a private and secure location.
Perhaps most importantly, trust your instincts. If something feels off, it probably is. Be aware and vigilant to protect yourself online for years to come.
At Abacus, we work with clients around the country. Learn the steps we take to protect your financial data, then reach out to an advisor today to see how we can help you expand what’s possible with money.