It’s almost impossible to imagine life without electronic devices. How would you keep in touch with your friends, listen to music, watch movies, buy tickets, make payments, or find the information you need without your phone, tablet, or computer? But as essential as your devices are to the way you live, using them can also expose you to serious problems if you’re not following some basic security rules.
To stop hackers, thieves, and others who’d love to benefit by accessing your personal and financial information, you can establish a line of defense by using tools and best practices of online safety.
One key thing is making sure your devices have up-to-date antivirus software to protect you from malware. (Note: Viruses are actually not the real problem—it’s thieves after your money and your data.) At the very least, make sure that you’ve installed free antivirus protection from a reputable provider, like AVG, and that you run the software’s updates when they are available.
For most people, though, it’s worth the money to subscribe to security software that protects against spyware, which mines your personal information, and ransomware, which encrypts your files so that they’re inaccessible until you pay money to restore your access. You can learn more about the top-rated providers at ConsumerReports.org.
You may want to go even further to protect your online activity and download a virtual private network (VPN). If you work from home, you may already be using a corporate VPN that links you to your employer’s server. Provided you’re careful to log out when you’re finished, the connection is secure. When you have a VPN service, your data is encrypted by the software, and then is sent through the VPN server before it goes to your online destination. That means it’s extremely difficult to trace that data back to you.
A VPN may be important if you frequently connect to the internet using public Wi-Fi networks, which are notoriously vulnerable to hackers. It should also provide greater protection against having your data sold to the highest bidder by your internet service provider.
Choosing the right VPN can be a little overwhelming. But there are a few practical guidelines that can help you in your search. Choose a provider that’s been around for a while and has a good track record, and one that offers a money-back guarantee. Most importantly, keep in mind why you want a VPN: to protect your privacy. Choose a VPN that doesn’t track your internet traffic or sell your data to third parties, which many free VPN services do. It also helps to choose a service with a user-friendly, simple interface and that offers good customer service, preferably with a 24/7 live chat option.
Remember: Public Wi-Fi networks are notoriously vulnerable to hackers.
Want to know more about staying safe online? Check out these Mascoma Bank articles on fraud and securing your online finances.
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