Internet Safety—Suggestions From the U.S. Attorney’s Office

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Provided by Matthew Wolesky of the U.S. Attorney’s Office

Your biggest threat to your online security is yourself.

This may come as a surprise (and you may not want to hear it), but it is probably true. It does not make as good a movie as having some malicious, yet talented, hacker targeting your accounts, your business or your identity. However, it is far more likely that you have made yourself a vulnerable target.

Similar to how we know we need to eat healthier, get more sleep and work out more—we also know how to be safe online. Do we actually do it? That is the question. We need to, and here are a few reminders that are every bit as obvious as "sleep more” but are every bit as neglected as well.

1. Passwords. How safe are your passwords? Your kids' names and your birth date are easy to remember, but really? Discussing password strength is not new ground in protecting yourself online, but have you done it? If not, why not? And probably equally important, have you made sure those around you—i.e., spouse, kids, secretary—have, too?

Do you use the same password for Facebook or your email that you use for your credit cards or banking?

Not choosing secure passwords is the technological equivalent of locking the door with the key left under the front doormat. You know you should not do it. Don't.

2. Public Wi-Fi. What are you doing online while using public Wi-Fi? Reading the news, OK. Logging into and sending email, not OK. Checking your bank account ... please. You get the picture. Oversimplification, of course. But are you thinking about it? Probably not all the time. So you are careful at your neighborhood Starbucks. How about your hotel Wi-Fi or the airport? Public Wi-Fi is public. So unless you are comfortable reading your bank account user name and password aloud while standing in line for coffee, do not send it over public Wi-Fi.
3. E-mail. You get spam email because economics support it. People actually click the links in those emails and are duped into buying things or sending money, or into downloading viruses on to their computers. Do not do that.

I am not stranded in a foreign country emailing you for money. I do not have $20,000 that I just need to find someone to put in the bank for me. I am not your bank, and it did not just switch to a new system that requires you to re-enter all of your personal information.

We live in the Midwest. We are polite. We trust people. Sorry, but you must stop it when reading those emails.

Thankfully, most of the major email providers are good at stopping those messages from getting through. Simply put, if it sounds too good to be true, it is. If you really are concerned or are worried that something is wrong, verify it outside of the email. Do not click the link in the email. It is too easy to use fake websites and fake URLs in messages. Get out of your email, and call your bank or go to your bank's website directly.

4. Your data. Finally, the security of your accounts and your personal information is important, and there is plenty of ground to cover there. But do not neglect the security of your data. As more of us rely on digital devices to store our documents, photos and video, it is essential to think through a backup plan.

I know. I just told you to eat more vegetables.

But do it. How are you backing up the photos on your phone? If your laptop or iPad crashed today, what would you do? I am not even talking about work — for which you should already have a plan. I am talking about you. Your photos. Your personal data.

If you do not know what you would do without your laptop, iPad or cellphone, then you better be sure you have thought through how you are backing up your device. Fortunately, this is getting easier, but it still requires planning. It is important, and it needs your attention.

These are obvious tips, but that is the point. You know what you need to do. The problem is you are probably not doing it as well as you know you need to.

You are also probably relying upon digital devices and the Internet more than you have previously, and now the cost of not following simple safety tips is getting higher. You are the biggest threat to yourself. So start there. Protect yourself, and change your own habits.

The problem with this advice is that even if I have convinced you to eat your vegetables, now you have to get your kids to do that, too.

And if you know how to do that, I am all ears.

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