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Keeping Your Online Accounts under “Lock and Key”

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By Carol L. Girvin, Advisor

It’s a memory many of us can relate too. That moment as a child, walking into your room, to find someone with your diary open, discovering your deepest thoughts and secrets. It’s disturbing to have your security and privacy ripped away in a single moment. In today’s tech-driven world, computers, cellphones, and smart devices have taken the place of pen-to-paper diaries. Like a diary, they hold our deepest and most sensitive information. In the wrong hands, that information could be used in unwanted ways, potentially costing you a great deal of time and money to recover. It is for this reason that we urge you to take certain precautions with your online accounts. Simple actions and habits when using a computer or smart device could help to keep your online “diary” locked away.

Online security experts, such as Norton and McAfee Internet Security, recommend several steps that used together could help protect your online information. 

1.    If you are no longer using an account, close it.

If you’ve been using online services for several years now, there is a good chance you’ve made more than one online account which you no longer use.  Having these unused accounts could leave your information easily exposed to online hackers. In 2016 the account information from over 360 million users on the social media website, MySpace, was put up for sale on an illegal trading website. Many of these accounts had not been accessed for nearly a decade, but the information could still be used to impersonate users. If you are done with the account, delete or disable it.

2.    Stay aware of your surroundings, on and offline.

Would you be able to remember an identifying detail about the person who stood behind you in line at the grocery store while you flipped through your phone? Could you recall the last time you checked the privacy settings on your Facebook page? Remaining complacent in regards to your safety and privacy could put your information in jeopardy. When in a public place, remain cautious of where and how you use the internet. For example, guard your screens the way you would your debit card; don’t use public Wi-Fi networks (including hotels), and only visit trusted sites which have a URL starting with “https”. The majority of online criminals prey on people when they have their guard down.

3.    Update your passwords.

We’ve mentioned in one of our previous articles the importance of updating passwords every 90 days. Along with continually updating passwords, it’s important that those passwords are unique and different for every account. In the past, it was recommended to use a string of random letters, numbers, and symbols with both upper and lowercase characters. New recommendations suggest instead using random sentences or phrases that you will be able to recall. A strong passphrase is typically a sentence that is at least 12 characters long. Keeping different passwords for every site can also prevent hackers from gaining access to multiple accounts if one is breached.  

4.    Post with caution.

It has never been easier to impersonate someone than in today’s world of constant online oversharing. Cybercriminals know this. Common security questions such as a pet’s name or a child’s birthday are often available on people’s social media pages. A great deal of private information is shared accidentally in posts or pictures. It has become a common tactic for home invaders to scope out a strike by perusing social media pages to see when families have left for a trip so they can gain easy access. Even a harmless photo could reveal your location because of geotagging. Most smartphones and apps will embed geographic location into photos, so when you share them, people can see when and where they were taken. This could give criminals a clear picture and timeline of your habits, making you an easier target. It could be a good idea to check the privacy settings on your phone and in your social media profiles to make sure automatic geotagging is turned off.

5.    Don’t ignore the security update.

It can be an inconvenience when you’re trying to use your phone or computer, and suddenly your operating system gives you a notification that it needs to update. Many of us delay these updates, but this could create a security risk. Software developers face an ongoing war with hackers. No system is perfect; they know this and are constantly running checks on systems to find any holes. These holes can weaken the security of your system and allow hackers to gain access to part or all of your device. In some cases, hackers have been able to gain access to phone and computer cameras remotely to spy on users. Those updates allow developers to release “patches” to close those security holes and keep hackers at bay.

Online security shouldn’t keep you up at night with worry, but remaining complacent could put you at risk. The internet is a great resource and can allow you to connect with friends and family across the globe, but if you wait until someone has already gained access to your accounts, it may already be too late. Being proactive rather than reactive often yields better results. It can take a cyber-criminal a minute to gain access but could take you potentially months or even years to regain lost accounts. As you venture into the online sphere, remember to stay vigilant and aware. It could be your best defense.



Investment advisory services offered through Ciccarelli Advisory Services, Inc., a registered investment adviser independent of FSC Securities Corporation.  Securities and additional investment advisory services offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA/SIPC and a registered investment adviser. 9601 Tamiami Trail North, Naples, FL. 239-262-6577.

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