By Thorin Klosowski
By making a few simple changes to your devices and accounts, you can maintain security against outside parties’ unwanted attempts to access your data as well as protect your privacy from those you don’t consent to sharing your information with. Getting started is easy. Here’s a guide to the few simple changes you can make to protect yourself and your information online.
Make smart use of the tools available to keep your data safe.
Secure your accounts
Why: In the past decade, data breaches and password leaks have struck companies such as Equifax, Facebook, Home Depot, Marriott, Target, Yahoo, and countless others. If you have online accounts, hackers have likely leaked data from at least one of them. Want to know which of your accounts have been compromised? Search for your email address on Have I Been Pwned? to cross-reference your email address with hundreds of data breaches.
How: Everyone should use a password manager to generate and remember different, complex passwords for every account — this is the most important thing people can do to protect their privacy and security today. Wirecutter’s favorite password managers are LastPass and 1Password. Both can generate passwords, monitor accounts for security breaches, suggest changing weak passwords, and sync your passwords between your computer and phone. Password managers seem intimidating to set up, but once you’ve installed one you just need to browse the Internet as usual. As you log in to accounts, the password manager saves your passwords and suggests changing weak or duplicate passwords. Over the course of a couple of weeks, you end up with new passwords for most of your accounts. Take this time to also change the default passwords for any devices in your house — if your home router, smart light bulbs, or security cameras are still using “password” or “1234” as the password, change them.
Everyone should also use two-step authentication whenever possible for their online accounts. Most banks and major social networks provide this option. As the name suggests, two-step authentication requires two steps: entering your password and entering a number only you can access. For example, step one is logging in to Facebook with your username and password. In step two, Facebook sends a temporary code to you in a text message or, even better, through an app like Google Authenticator, and you enter that code to log in.
Protect your Web browsing
Why: Companies and websites track everything you do online. Every ad, social network button, and website collects information about your location, browsing habits, and more. The data collected reveals more about you than you might expect. You might think yourself clever for never tweeting your medical problems or sharing all your religious beliefs on Facebook, for instance, but chances are good that the websites you visit regularly provide all the data advertisers need to pinpoint the type of person you are. This is part of how targeted ads remain one of the Internet’s most unsettling innovations.
How: A browser extension like uBlock Origin blocks ads and the data they collect. The uBlock Origin extension also prevents malware from running in your browser and gives you an easy way to turn the ad blocking off when you want to support sites you know are secure. Combine uBlock with Privacy Badger, which blocks trackers, and ads won’t follow you around as much. To slow down stalker ads even more, disable interest-based ads from Apple, Facebook, Google, and Twitter. A lot of websites offer means to opt out of data collection, but you need to do so manually. Simple Opt Out has direct links to opt-out instructions for major sites like Netflix, Reddit, and more. Doing this won’t eliminate the problem completely, but it will significantly cut down the amount of data collected.
You should also install the HTTPS Everywhere extension. HTTPS Everywhere automatically directs you to the secure version of a site when the site supports that, making it difficult for an attacker — especially if you’re on public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop, airport, or hotel — to digitally eavesdrop on what you’re doing.
Some people may want to use a virtual private network (VPN), but it’s not necessary for everyone. If you frequently connect to public Wi-Fi, a VPN is useful because it adds a layer of security to your browsing when HTTPS isn’t available. It can also provide some privacy from your Internet service provider and help minimize tracking based on your IP address. But all your Internet activity still flows through the VPN provider’s servers, so in using a VPN you’re choosing to trust that company over your ISP not to store or sell your data. Make sure you understand the pros and cons first, but if you want a VPN, Wirecutter recommends IVPN.
Use antivirus software on your computer
Why: Viruses might not seem as common as they were a decade ago, but they still exist. Malicious software on your computer can wreak all kinds of havoc, from annoying pop-ups to covert bitcoin mining to scanning for personal information. If you’re at risk for clicking perilous links, or if you share a computer with multiple people in a household, it’s worthwhile to set up antivirus software, especially on Windows computers.
How: If your computer runs Windows 10, you should use Microsoft’s built-in software, Windows Defender. Windows Defender offers plenty of security for most people, and it’s the main antivirus option that Wirecutter recommends; we reached that conclusion after speaking with several experts. If you run an older version of Windows (even though we recommend updating to Windows 10) or you use a shared computer, a second layer of protection might be necessary. For this purpose, Malwarebytes Premium is your best bet. Malwarebytes is unintrusive, it works well with Windows Defender, and it doesn’t push out dozens of annoying notifications like most antivirus utilities tend to do.
Mac users are typically okay with the protections included in macOS, especially if you download software only from Apple’s App Store and stick to well-known browser extensions. If you do want a second layer of security, Malwarebytes Premium is also available for Mac. You should avoid antivirus applications on your phone altogether and stick to downloading trusted apps from official stores.
(From The NYTimes)