Over the past two decades, the Internet has become an integral part of our daily lives. Vacations are planned, dinners ordered, and gifts purchased, all with a click of the button, and all requiring users to input private information that instantly becomes vulnerable to phishing scams and hackers. While October has been set aside for Cyber Security Awareness Month, protecting your online information necessitates year-round attention. Because cyber security threats evolve frequently, so should your methods for protecting yourself.
Here are some ways to protect your information:
Create strong, protected passwords using LastPass.
Forgetting your password: if it doesn’t happen to you daily, I want to know your secret. Thankfully, Penn students, faculty, and staff now have access to LastPass, a password management system that operates in your browser and securely saves the passwords for any site you use. Locally encrypted and protected by a master password, LastPass can sync with all your devices and is available anywhere. It will even generate secure passwords for you and audit your passwords to make sure they’re strong enough to keep your information safe from hackers. And further, it will update your passwords without affecting your daily use. Now you can finally make room in your brain for something other than the weird iterations of your hamster’s name followed by a string of numerical characters.
Online shopping is arguably the best thing to come from the 20th century. So many options. So many bargains. And all from the comfort of your couch and sweatpants. Of course, with great power comes great responsibility. First of all, I know you have your heart set on that zombie survival kit, but make sure to order it from a trusted online retailer. If they’re asking for your social security number, or even your birthday, buy Justin Timberlake’s half-eaten french toast from another source. One sure-fire way to make sure you’ve picked the right online store: look at the URL. If it has a secure sockets layer (SSL), it will begin with https:/ rather than http:/. Also, I know it’s daunting, but make sure to check your credit card and bank statements every month to make sure you were charged the correct amount.
Watch out for scams.
Most likely, you know not to trust an email that claims you won a foreign lottery or that you’ve been hired for a work-from-home position that you never even applied for in the first place. But you may not know that it’s also inadvisable to take online surveys from companies you don’t recognize, and that you shouldn’t open emails that don’t display your name in the “To” field. Keep up-to-date with this list of bogus messages targeting Penn email addresses.
You’ve heard it all before: don’t open attachments that haven’t been vetted by an up-to-date anti-virus software and never share personal information via email (even if you know the recipient). Review privacy policies before sharing your email address with an online company or retailer. When emailing or performing other sensitive actions online, be sure to connect to a secure network, rather than a shared WiFi at a cafe or hotel.
Download anti-virus software.
Anti-virus software can be expensive, but thankfully the Wharton community has access to Symantec for free. Symantec checks hard drives, removable media, and email attachments for computer viruses and immediately removes them. Windows Defender, a native program in Windows, is a highly recommended alternative for Windows 8 and 10 users. It comes pre-installed but may need to be configured by users during the initial setup process. Regardless of which software you choose, it is only as strong as your last update, so make sure to turn automatic updates on to protect yourself against ever-evolving spyware and malicious attacks.
Protecting yourself online with these crucial steps will help keep your information safe. Biometrics, security keys, two-step login processes, and best practice passwords can also serve as authentication tools to protect you and your information further. Penn and Wharton work hard to stay on top of privacy issues that might affect our community, so make sure to regularly check out Penn’s Privacy website, which has information ranging from social media guidance to resources regarding tax fraud. Someone online is a victim of identity fraud every two seconds, but there are ways beyond passwords that will serve to protect your information.
— Gabriella Harris
Gabriella works with the Wharton Computing Communications team while she completes her Masters in Public Health at The University of Pennsylvania.