It seems we hear a new “sorry, we’ve been hacked” story every day. Ranging from small companies to some of the biggest names known worldwide, everyone from Target to Uber to Chipotle has been hacked leaving your data compromised. And it doesn’t stop there.
“Last September, Yahoo announced that data associated with at least 500 million accounts had been stolen. Three months later, it disclosed a second breach affecting more than one billion accounts,” according to Seth Fiegerman with CNN Tech.
As a college student, it may feel almost impossible to protect yourself from being a hacking victim—you don’t have money to put special protection on your data or personal information—but the key word is “almost.”
There are a number of steps you can take to protect your data and personal information from being stolen or accessed, all of which are easy, and better yet, free.
- Use a Password Manager
You know the three basic rules of passwords: they should be:
• Unique to each account.
• Complex, using letters, numbers and symbols whenever possible.
• Unidentifiable to you, like the name of your pet or your birthday—all information a hacker can easily find online.
If you’re following all the rules, the first thought is: I’ll never remember all that; which is why most people don’t follow them. Instead of leaving yourself vulnerable to hacking, use a password manager.“Using a master password, these programs will catalog and secure the login info for every account you own, and most of them come with a browser plugin that allows you plug in any login on the fly while you browse,” according to How to Protect Your Digital Identity and Lock Your Sensitive Data. The same guide suggests checking out the following password managers, all of which are free to use:
2) Use the Latest Version of Your Browser
Keeping both your OS and your browser up to date is critical for online security: “In both scenarios, you’re putting your personal online security at risk anytime you browse the internet. Without current web browser support and critical security updates from Microsoft, your PC may become vulnerable to any number of harmful viruses, spyware, and other malicious software which can steal or damage your identity, personal finances, and information,” explain blog staff at WebRoot.
It sounds simple, but many people see the reminder or request to update and click on the “not now” button. Don’t put off these updates and instead schedule the update to happen later instead of just closing that pop-up—or better yet, do it right then and there and take a quick 15-minute study break.
You can schedule your updates to happen automatically as well. Use this as an easy way to plan ahead and schedule updates to happen at times that you wouldn’t be on your computer, like when you’re sleeping.
3) Install a VPN
VPN stands for virtual private network. The beauty of a VPN is that it completely hides the data connection to your ISP address from potential hackers: Lee Matthews, software and tech writer for Forbes, explains in easy-to-understand terms:
“When you connect to a VPN, all the data that gets sent from your device to the private network at the other end (and back) is ‘encapsulated. Think putting a letter into an envelope to keep its contents from being read during transport. The envelope could still be opened, though. That’s why organizations like the CIA put tamper-proof tape over the flap. With a VPN connection, encryption is the tamper-proof tape. The result is a sort of network-within-a-network, but because of encapsulation and encryption your connection to a VPN remains private even though the data you’re transmitting is moving over the very public Internet.”
You can get a VPN for any browser for free; all you have to do is make sure it’s connected. Some websites may recognize it and not serve you content (many T.V. networks do this when you’re trying to watch shows online), but you can simply disconnect for that one site and reconnect when you’re done.
4) Install An Ad Blocker
Pop-up ads are not only annoying, but they also pose a security threat. “Ads are known to spread malware. For that reason alone, you should block all of them. I say this as someone whose rent is, in part, paid by ad revenue,” says William Turton, staff writer with Gizmodo.
There are a wide variety of AdBlockers you can use, depending on your browser. Check out Tom’s Guide’s extensive round-up of option for Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and IE.
5) Set Up Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication is a security feature that requires you to take one extra step when logging into an account. In some cases, the extra step will be a preset security question while others use an additional PIN code or a verification code sent to you via text.
This extra step provides an extra layer of security so if someone guesses your password, they won’t be able to get through the second part of the login process. “For hackers, the coup de grace is setting up instant alerts when your account is accessed from an unfamiliar device or location. Usually, this is you because you’re logging into your email account from an internet café in London, or you’re checking your bank balance on a trusted friend’s phone,” says Kim Komando, tech expert for USA Today.
Get Secure Now
It can be a daunting task to consider setting up these different security measures, but it will be well worth it when your online privacy has been protected, especially in light of the many security breaches we now hear about on a daily basis. You can protect yourself easily, and for little to no money, so take an hour between classes to get secure and enjoy the peace of mind that comes with it.
BIO: Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a full-time freelance writer and self-employed content marketing consultant. She’s been featured in Forbes and Business Insider and has written for Reader’s Digest, Lifehack and more.