Good security advice can be hard to find. Lots of security experts offer help, but not all of their tips are accurate or up-to-date, and many address PC security only. So even if you follow their advice, you may be more vulnerable than you think.
That's where we come in. We've assembled a dozen simple but essential tips - a 12-step security programme - to keep your PC, smartphone, gadgets, and identity safe. The steps are practical and fairly easy to perform, so you can strengthen your security without losing your mind in the process.
1. Use virtual credit card numbers to shop online
You have good reason to be nervous when using your credit card number to shop online. After all, you may know little or nothing about the company you're buying from, and your credit card information is at risk of being compromised in a data breach. Using a virtual credit card number is one way to make your Internet shopping excursions more secure.
Essentially a wrapper for your regular credit card or debit card account, a virtual card number is good for one use only. When you use the virtual number, the bank that supplied it charges your purchase to your regular credit or debit card, but hackers never gain access to the underlying credit card information.
Various financial institutions maintain some sort of virtual credit card program. Check with your bank or card issuer to see what options are available. Alternatively, consider Shop Shield, a virtual card number service that you can use with any credit card.
2. Secure your Wi-Fi
Is your Wi-Fi network at home password-protected? If not, it should be. You might not care if your neighbours use your Wi-Fi connection to surf the web, but someone with more sinister motives could take advantage of your generosity (and lack of protection) to gain access to data stored on your home PCs.
The easiest way to guard against Wi-Fi interlopers is to encrypt your Wi-Fi network. Afterward you'll have to enter a password whenever you connect to your Wi-Fi network, but that's a small price to pay for improved security. Most Wi-Fi routers support WEP, WPA, and WPA2 encryption standards. Be sure to use either the WPA or WPA2 encryption settings, which provide a much higher level of security than WEP encryption.
Another safeguard is to set your router not to broadcast the SSID (your network's name). With SSID broadcasting disabled, your wireless network won't be visible to computers nearby, and only people who specifically know your network's name will be able to find it. The procedure for locking down your Wi-Fi will vary depending on your router's model and manufacturer. Check the router's documentation for instructions.
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