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The Best Ways To Protect Yourself Online

By Rose Haywood

You put more personal information online than you may think. By signing up for a contest, shopping online for the holidays, or doing online banking, you can make it easier for hackers to get the details they need about your online ID.

With so many companies and services moving to online-only mediums, it’s hard not to put some of your information out there to get the services you need.

Here are three easy-to-follow rules that can help safeguard your ID and personal information, including financial and health details,heal from prying eyes.

1. Avoid free Wi-Fi

You can get a wireless connection to the Internet almost anywhere these days. But don’t be fooled by the convenience of free Internet access. Open Wi-Fi networks make it easy for hackers to gain access to your computer – and ultimately, your private information.

Play it safe when you’re at the airport, bookstore or coffee shop – locations that typically offer customers access to their Wi-Fi network for free. It’s far better to wait until you’re on your secure home network than risk being hacked while you’re out and about.

If you find yourself in a jam and need to get on a Wi-Fi network that isn’t secure, here are a few tips to protect yourself:

•Don’t log into websites that have personal information – especially bank accounts

•Log out of an account after you have completed your task. Keep in mind that closing your browser doesn’t always log you out of an account.

•Download a browser extension to block someone trying to access your information. HTTPS Everywhere is a popular extension. For Firefox users, Ghostery is a popular add-on to block anyone tracking you online.

2. Be cautious when banking online

Online banking has become an everyday occurrence. And to the banks’ credit, they do keep a fairly tight control over their servers and security networks. However, hackers have been able to breach their security before, and banks haven’t been much help in explaining DDoS (distributed denial of service) to their customers. If you’ve ever been unable to access your online account, the chances are high it’s because of a DDoS – essentially when multiple hackers send too much traffic to a site and shut it down for actual consumers.

Not only can this experience cause frustration, it also is a warning that your account information could be compromised and that hackers are phishing for your information. Always remember that banks will never email you asking for you to verify your log-in or password. Should you ever receive a pop-up message or email asking for this type of sensitive information, contact your bank immediately to report the attempted phishing.

3. Keep your operating system and malware protection up to date

Updating your computer’s operating system (OS) and keeping your security software up to date is one of the most important, yet overlooked, measures to take against hackers, viruses and malware. This is especially true for Windows XP users. On April 8, Microsoft will no longer send out its usual security patches to fix bugs within the OS. If you’re still using the Windows XP operating system, it’s time to upgrade to Windows 8 – otherwise, hackers can take advantages of unfixed bugs in your OS.

Once you have an up-to-date OS installed, it’s time to think about finding reliable security software.

A few of the more popular security programs include:

•            McAfee

•            Kaspersky

•            Norton 

Each of these security software suites offer protection from malware and viruses, in addition to guarding your identity from hackers. An added bonus – you can load this software on all the web-enabled devices you own, including smartphones, tablets and laptops.

Rose Haywood is a technology writer and social media marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs realize their dreams.