Ten Things to Do to Reduce Information Security Threats

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Hackers are always hovering, looking for a way to gain access to restricted data. Follow sensible steps to safeguard your information.

Just as it was in the past when ordinary people had to deal with highwaymen and bandits on the roads, internet users have to deal with the new breed of bandits on the information highway who are out to divert personal data and funds for their own use. While companies have their own challenges in dealing with these hackers, individuals can follow sensible practices to do their part to reduce information security threats.

Ten Ways to Minimize Information Security Threats

  1. If your password is actually a word, you have a problem. Strong passwords make it much harder for scammers to decipher or guess the contents. A long random character string, using different kinds of characters, such as letters, numbers, symbols, and punctuation, will give the best protection. Go to Microsoft’s “Create strong passwords” for suggestions.
  2. Keep your operating software updated with the latest patches. Programmers are constantly reviewing operating software for vulnerabilities to security threats. Patches to address those vulnerabilities are released regularly. You can set Windows software to download updates automatically.
  3. Own and use security software that protects computers from viruses, malware, spyware, and phishing programs. There are many options on the market, but whichever one you choose, keep it running all the time and keep it updated with new virus definitions and protection as soon as they are available. More recent programs will do automatic updates at regular intervals.
  4. Download with care. Downloading programs or documents from the internet without being sure where they originate is an invitation for malicious software to enter your system. If there is a program you’re interested in, do some checking on the company that offers it. Read reviews about the product from impartial sources, not the company’s website. Set security software to scan files or documents before they open on your computer.
  5. Be as cautious online as you would be opening your front door. The internet seems to inspire a level of trust that wouldn’t exist in a person. If you wouldn’t give information to the person standing at your front door without verifying identity and authorization, don’t do it on the internet. Never give information when it’s being solicited by someone else unless you’re absolutely sure of the company and the reason for the request.
  6. Don’t send personal or financial information by e-mail. E-mail is not secure. If you need to give personal information to a legitimate company, do it on the company’s website with a secure connection.
  7. Con artists rely on greed. If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is. The Internal Revenue Service isn’t going to send you an e-mail telling you there’s a refund due to you and General Whatsit doesn’t really have millions in a bank account that he’s just waiting for you to help him get out of the country. Don’t even open this type of e-mail and delete it immediately. You can report suspicious e-mails by sending a message to reportphishing@antiphishing.org.
  8. Verify the security setting of websites where you do business. Look for the padlock symbol on the browser bar or “https” in the URL for companies that are requesting information like name and address or credit card number for online shopping. Reputable companies also publish privacy policies to tell you how they will use and store your personal information.
  9. Monitor your online accounts frequently. You can contain the damage more easily the sooner you know about a problem. When it comes to bank accounts, the U.S. government significantly limits your liability under Regulation E if you notify the financial institution of any discrepancies within two business days.
  10. Never list anything on a social network you wouldn’t publish in a newspaper. Once you put information online on any social networking site, you have no idea where it goes and who sees it, and you can’t get it back.

Use Common Sense to Reduce Information Security Threats

Everyone wants to enjoy the benefits and convenience of using the internet. Taking basic precautions and using common sense in your interactions with people and companies online will keep you safer and minimize the chance that your information will be compromised. Detailed guidance is available from the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s OnGuardOnline.gov website.

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