3 Internet Safety Mistakes That Get You Hacked

dark clothed person looking at sphere with binary code and HACKED

In 2005, the U.S. Senate designated June as National Internet Safety Month, as “an opportunity to educate the people of the United States on the dangers of the Internet and the importance of being safe and responsible online.”  While the resolution was born from the recognition that children were increasingly online, the need to understand internet safety extends to all of us – and it’s even more important today than 15 years ago. Just as personal hygiene can protect you from disease (wash your hands), practicing good cyber hygiene can help protect you from internet nasties.  Here are 3 common mistakes that compromise your internet safety, along with advice on what you can do to protect yourself.

Internet Safety Mistake 1 – Reusing Passwords

A 2018 study by researchers at Virginia Tech University revealed that an alarming 52% of users reuse passwords on different services – and the MOST reused passwords were for sensitive sites, like email or shopping sites.  Not only that, many people were still reusing the same passwords even after the credentials had been leaked in a data breach. Wonder if your password has been exposed?  Check Have I Been Pwned? to see if your account has been involved in any of the numerous data breaches reported over the last several years.

Why it’s a problem:

Suppose you’ve set up a really strong password – no dictionary words, you’ve used a passphrase to establish an 18 character password with various alphanumeric characters and even a special character or two. That’s great. But if you use your special strong password for your bank, and your email, and your social media account, and one of those is hacked, all the other services where you use that password are at risk.

What you should do:

Using a strong password is great, and still important.  But the best password in the world is of no use if it’s been exposed in a data breach.  Use a password manager to help you create and manage strong, unique passwords for the many systems you use.  And use two-factor authentication as an extra layer of protection for your most sensitive accounts, like banking or email.

Internet Safety Mistake 2 – Not Updating

You probably get update notifications on your computer or your phone.  Maybe you have them set to auto-update, or maybe you prefer to have control over when an update is done, since you’ve heard of problems happening with updates.  But do you always make sure the updates are done in a timely manner?  You probably have other software on your computer, not just the operating system.  Those programs often get updates as well, but they may require you to log in to apply the update. What about the other internet-connected items in your home?  When is the last time you updated the firmware on your wireless router?  Many smart devices get updates as well, usually automatically, but sometimes an update is interrupted – you should check to be sure all updates are applied.

Why it’s a problem:

Software updates are done either to add new features or to plug security holes.  Technology is constantly changing, and new vulnerabilities are discovered all the time; reputable companies do their best to stay on top of this and issue updates or “patches” to fix security issues. Failure to do updates and apply patches is one of the top reasons for data breaches, and this applies to your home systems as well as to big companies.  In 2018, a major cyberattack was launched targeting small office and home routers; it allowed bad actors to steal website credentials, extract information, and block network traffic.  Most vendors created patches, but routers usually require you to do a manual update.

What you should do:

Be aware of all the connected devices you have – definitely your smart phone and computer, but also think about your router, your smart TV, streaming devices, smart speakers, home control hubs, even your smart watch.  If you have a small business, don’t forget about your connected printer, your website, and your file servers. Establish a process to regularly check for updates on all your devices and for the software running on those devices, especially if you don’t have auto-updates.

Remember to check for updates on all the software running on your computer.  CCleaner Pro is one program that can help you with this; it can check for outdated software on your computer and in many cases update it for you.

Internet Safety Mistake 3 – Using Public WiFi

Have you ever connected to the “free WiFi” offered at your favorite coffeeshop?  Or perhaps you travel for business, or vacation, and use the airport or hotel WiFi.  Careless use of public WiFi is one of the biggest mistakes people make when on the go.  While having access to WiFi can be very convenient, it comes with a significant security risk.

Why it’s a problem:

Very often, free WiFi offered in public spaces is completely open, with no password or protection at all.  A hacker can set up a wireless “sniffer”, which can read all the data you send over that network, such as user names and passwords.

Also, it’s easy for a hacker to set up an inexpensive device and pretend to be a legitimate wireless access point.  When you log in to that “FreeAndOpenWiFi” network at the hotel or airport, are you sure it’s really the right network?  It could be a bad guy out in the parking lot, who can now view everything you are doing on your laptop or phone.

What you should do:

SurfShark has a great resource explaining the risk of public wifi and what you can do to protect yourself.  A couple of quick things to remember:

When using public WiFi, always check with the venue to make sure you’re logging in to the REAL network – and make sure it has at least basic encryption and requires a password.

Even when you’re sure it’s the right network, take precautions to protect the information you’re sending over the WiFi network.  It’s best not to do any sensitive business while using public WiFi – for example, don’t log in to your bank using the airport WiFi.  If you must use public WiFi, use a VPN service on your laptop or mobile device to encrypt the data you send and keep it safe from cyber thieves.

Don’t make these internet mistakes!

Protect your passwords, update regularly, and be extra careful if you use public WiFi.  Keep yourself safe by staying aware of risks and practicing good cyber hygiene!

Scroll to Top