There’s a lot of misinformation about security online. The truth is that by taking a few simple steps you can make yourself much safer. Here are the basic, super easy ways to do it:
Conventional wisdom says that if you use a long password with crazy letters, numbers, and symbols, your account is safe. The fact is, a password like “annexrubykneadtone” is just as secure as “J+e}F*b>J*S;36fSvbSLX)R}” as long as it’s unique. When a hacker is trying to break into your account, the first thing they’ll probably do is search through previous database dumps for your email address. If you’re using the same password across multiple services, a hacker who finds it can access many of your accounts.
There’s a helpful website for checking to see if your email address has been included in a database dump, but it doesn’t include every dump. If you use unique passwords for each service, you know that if one of them gets breached, all of your other accounts will be safe. This doesn’t mean that you should make your password short and easily guessable, obviously. And don’t include any personal information that could be easily researched.
When it comes to things like securing your hard drive or external drives with encryption, complexity actually becomes a little more important than it would be for an online service. Offline drives are susceptible to brute force attacks, where a hacker rapidly guesses millions of passwords. There’s a surprisingly easy way to create strong passwords that you can memorize, but that will be able to stand up to a brute force attack. You could also use this method for creating passwords for your online accounts, though it may be a little time consuming.
Two-factor authentication has made the internet much more secure. Generally, two-factor authentication requires that you enter a code generated by an app on your phone or sent to you via text message, in addition to your account password. It ensures that even if a hacker has your password, they can’t get into your account. You should use two-factor authentication on everything you can, from your bank account to your social media accounts to your email. Sure, it can sometimes be a pain in the ass, but it is so worth it.
Here’s a handy guide for services that offer two factor authentication.
Ads are known to spread malware. For that reason alone, you should block all of them. Seriously! I say this as someone whose rent is, in part, paid by ad revenue. With ads, there is no upside when it comes to your security online. My favorite ad blocker is uBlock Origin, because it gets the job done and is easily customizable. (Bonus tip: Chrome is generally regarded as the most secure browser, because it receives frequent automatic security updates.) You might think that ads on sketchy porn sites or illegal streaming services are the only ones that can infect you, but ads on huge mainstream news websites like The New York Times and the BBC have been found to distribute malware.