If you use the Internet in any meaningful waysending email, uploading photos, frequenting social networks, shoppingyour online profile is likely already floating around in the ether. And even if you haven't been online all that much, bits of your personal data may be available for online viewing via digitized public records. An interested person could readily find out if you have a mortgage, for example, or if you've recently gotten married or divorced.
You probably know that a typical five-character, dictionary-word password is easy to hack, and perhaps you rely on something far less penetrable. But you probably don't have the time or bandwidth to memorize a complicated mix of numbers and letters. So here are a few quick, easy-to-implement security tips that will drastically reduce your hackability.
Search for yourself. Before you start worrying, it's a good idea to get a handle on how much information about you is out there by searching for yourself. Type your name into Googleboth with quotation marks and withoutand with relevant keywords, such as your address, phone number, email addresses, job title, company, and alma mater.
See what you find, and try to look at the information the way a hacker would. Is there enough data there for someone to piece together your life? If so, you need to take steps to improve your personal security.
Use passphrases instead of passwords: Passwords are a tricky security issue. The best passwords are computer-generated mixtures of letters, numbers, and special characters (such as exclamation points and question marks). Unfortunately, the resulting alphanumeric strings are also extremely difficult for most people to remember. But since most passwords are hacked via brute-force methodsthat is, by having a computer go through all possible combinations of characterslonger passwords are more secure simply because they take longer to discover.
For example, an Intel Core i7 processor takes just hours to crack a five-character password, but it takes more than 10 days to crack a seven-character password. That's why security experts recommend using passphrases instead of passwords. See Alex Wawro's password primer for pointers on building a good passphrase.
Stay updated: One of the easiest ways to prevent intruders from compromising your computer is to make sure that you're always running the latest version of all your PC applicationsincluding your antivirus program.
"Drive-by downloadsmalware that downloads to your computer when you click on a malicious linkoften work by exploiting known bugs in software," Harrison says. "These bugs are usually fixed in updated versions of the software, but that won't help you if you're still running the old version."