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Phoenix Forward magazine

5 cybersecurity mistakes you can avoid


While everyone can agree that the Internet makes life easier, it’s also full of potential dangers. “Hackers are looking for [your] banking information, along with personal information such as addresses, Social Security numbers, birth dates and credit card information,” says Lisa Sims, a private technology consultant and an online instructor of web development courses for University of Phoenix.

Here are five common mistakes that can put your safety online at risk:

Choosing weak passwords

Many people use passwords that are too easy for hackers to guess or break, Sims says. “They should be at least eight to 10 characters in length and should consist of a combination of letters, numbers and special characters,” she advises. It’s also wise to have different passwords for each device and program you use, she adds, and to change your passwords every 30 days.

You can convert your favorite passwords to stronger ones fairly easily: “Happy,” for example, is a weak password, while “h@appine$$13” is a strong one. If you have trouble remembering passwords, Sims suggests writing them down and keeping them in a secure location, or taking advantage of SecureSafe® encrypted password management or a similar app.

Using public Wi-Fi networks

It’s common to use a laptop in public, but doing so can lead to disaster, Sims warns. “Your behavior should be different when using your laptop in a coffee shop versus using it at home,” she notes, stressing that you should never conduct banking transactions or make online purchases over a public network.

She also recommends installing a password-protected screen saver or privacy grid to prevent others from seeing sensitive information, noting, “You never know who is looking over your shoulder.”

Skimping on firewalls

You might think firewalls aren’t necessary for personal computing, but Sims believes otherwise.

“Use anti-virus/firewall programs such as AVG Internet Security or Norton 360™ that not only scan for viruses and spyware, but also help protect people’s [information] online,” she says, adding that to work properly, the software must be updated frequently and always kept on.

Use only well-known online banking or shopping sites that feature valid Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates — look for “https:” in your browser window — for a safe connection, she suggests. You can also verify SSL certificates online at SSLShopper.

Banking via mobile apps

Banking with your smartphone is convenient, but be careful. “Mobile devices are particularly high-risk,” Sims says, because using them usually means conducting financial business over unsecure public networks.

To protect yourself, she says, install a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app like 5VPN or StrongVPN onto your device to act as a mini-firewall.


Revealing personal information

Whether you’re selling your car on the Craigslist® website or using online dating sites, you should avoid posting or sharing personal information with anyone over the Internet, Sims emphasizes. “Never list your home address or real phone number,” she advises. Instead, take advantage of free apps like the Google Voice™ communications service that will forward calls and messages to a private number of your choice.

Also, be cautious when applying for employment online, Sims notes. “Never disclose your Social Security number on [online job applications.]”


SecureSafe is a registered trademark of DSwiss AG.
Norton 360 is a trademark of Symantec Corp. or its affiliates in the U.S. and other countries.
Craigslist is a registered trademark of Craigslist Inc.
Google Voice is a trademark of Google Inc.

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