According to the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), cybercrime is any “crime committed or facilitated via the Internet.” This covers a lot of ground. It includes monetary crimes such as illegally accessing bank accounts, credit accounts and other personal financial information online; as well as infecting computers with viruses and other malware.
Like most bad guys, cybercriminals prefer easy prey. The harder you make it for them to get into your computer, the more likely they are to move on to a less prepared victim. These cybercrime prevention tips could go a long way toward thwarting any criminals who target you.
Keep Your Computer Up to Date
Yes, those updates are a pain — they make you wait, wait, and wait some more while they install before you can use your computer again. But they may also be your first line of defense against cybercriminals. They can correct software and system errors that effectively may leave your computer’s door wide open to criminals who want to exploit them. Patch the holes regularly whenever an update is available. Don’t procrastinate.
Tweak Your Applications
Take a look at your email and browser settings. You can set both up to give you a figurative tap on the shoulder when you’re about to do something you might want to think twice about, such as visiting a questionable website or opening a malicious email. Cybercriminals can compromise your computer using both of these means, so configure your system to send an alert before you accidentally stumble into a bad situation.
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Don’t Let Your Security Software Lapse
The NCPC indicates that it’s virtually impossible to buy a home computer these days that doesn’t come with virus protection, but even if your computer comes with one, the subscription is going to expire eventually. Don’t let yours lapse. These programs attack viruses and malware, and many offer firewalls that prevent cybercriminals and other unauthorized users from accessing your computer. They’re updated regularly to address new cyber threats and to accommodate technological advances. Keep your security software current, download all those updates and configure your browser to the security level that’s right for you — these steps can form a nearly impenetrable wall around your computer when they’re used in tandem.
Change Your Passwords Regularly
The more complex your online passwords are, the better, but you should still change them regularly. They should include numbers, letters and symbols, and be at least eight characters long. You should also consider using two-factor authentication when available. When enabled, two-factor authentication, or 2FA, requires two out of three types of credentials before being able to access an account. These are typically:
- A personal identification number (PIN), password, or pattern
- A secondary number confirmation, such as an access code delivered to your mobile device or email
- A biometric like a fingerprint or voice print
Resist the temptation to use the passwords for all or even some of your accounts. One breached account can lead to a domino effect, putting all your accounts at risk. Don’t forget your smartphone — this should also be password protected.
Be Protective With Personal Information
Once your devices are up to speed, take a look at your behavior online. Don’t share too much personal information on social media websites, and check your privacy settings to make sure you approve of the people who see what you do write.
If a suspicious email somehow manages to slip past your configurations, do not provide information it may ask for. Misspellings and odd grammar in the subject line is a good hint that the sender is suspect. Safe and secure commercial websites typically have an “S” immediately after “http” and/or a little lock icon beside the address. Make sure these are in place before you type in any personal info.
How to Detect Identity Theft
Even if you check off all the boxes above, cybercrime prevention includes looking for signs of a breach. Check your bank account and credit card statements regularly for any unfamiliar activity, and report it immediately if you receive unwarranted calls from debt collectors, IRS notifications that more than one tax return was filed under your name or coverage refusal from your health insurance for conditions you don’t have.