We talked about bank accounts in our class earlier this week. They’re a necessary part of any modern family’s financial system, but if there is a downside to them (other than the terrible returns these days), it’s the fact that our bank accounts could be hacked and our information and money stolen.
Cybersecurity is a huge threat in today’s world, however there are many things that we can do to mitigate the risks.
If you are entering any type of confidential information such as social security numbers and credit card information you should first check to make sure the website you are using is secure.
Two indications that a website is secure are:
- The web address includes https:// instead of http://. The “s” indicates that it the web page has been encrypted with SSL (simply stated a secure connection that encrypts data sent through the website).
- There is a closed padlock in the browser name, either before the web address or on the right by the website name. This indicates an even greater level of security, as the company has had to go through a verification process that they are legitimately the owner and they have encrypted the page with SSL.
Using a non-secure website could mean that a cyber criminal can access your information, since it hasn’t been encrypted between your browser’s connection and the site server of the company to which you are giving information. You should ONLY purchase from companies with the higher level of security that includes the closed padlock (as shown above) as a symbol of its security certificate. This is of course equally important for banking websites.
In addition to ensuring that you are only purchasing from secure websites, it’s also extremely important that you do not make payments using public wi-fi or public computers. Cyber criminals target these public connections to steal private information. Just don’t do it.
CHECK CLOUD STORAGE
A similar consideration regarding secure websites and financial data is the use of cloud storage for personal information, such as tax returns, bank account statements, and related documents. I personally love to be able to access my documents through a number of different electronic devices and locations.
Common cloud storage websites include Dropbox, Google Drive, Evernote and OneDrive. These websites use encryption, multi-factor authentication and other security measures for their servers to make sure that all information coming in and out is protected. However, your personal information is only protected if you, the user, takes precautions such as not accessing private information from public access points and setting up secure passwords.
CHECK YOUR PASSWORDS
I recently participated in several continuing education courses (to keep up my CPA license) on the topics of cloud security and online passwords. While before I didn’t feel like my current passwords present any security issues, I had some huge take-aways that have encouraged me to change many of my online passwords.
One of the greatest things I learned about from this training was of a website that you can use to test passwords: How Secure is My Password?.
This website allows you to enter any password (I don’t recommend putting in your real password!) to be able to see the impact that a strong password makes in preventing it from being hacked. Basically any password that is a common word can be hacked instantly (such as “travel” or “giraffe” or even “booger”). By adding in capitalized letters, numbers and symbols you can create a password that at least in theory wouldn’t be cracked for a “million years”.
Some additional password suggestions include:
- Use a minimum of 8 characters.
- Use symbols, numbers and capitalization.
- Do not base your passwords on information such as birth dates, social security numbers or family member names.
- Do not use simple letter or number patterns, such as the keyboard pattern “qwerty”.
- Consider using sentences streamed together that are easy to remember such as “IlovetoplaySkipbo” or “Iamabigmoneynerd”
- Do not share your password with anyone else.
- Do not use the same password at multiple sites, especially between nonsecure and secure websites (it’s a common method for hackers to hack your password from nonsecure websites and try the password on your a secure website such as a bank site). And absolutely never use the same password for your email and any other website. Emails get hacked way too often for that!
- Change your passwords regularly, especially for financial accounts.
- Do not reuse passwords.
- Do not write your passwords down in an easy accessible location (a sticky note on your laptop-bad idea!).
- Consider using a secure password manager such as LastPass, RoboForm or Dashlane.
CHECK YOUR FINANCIAL ACCOUNTS
While not necessarily a preventative measure, regularly checking your financial accounts will ensure that you know immediately when your accounts have been compromised.
If you are similar to me, you may have at least a dozen accounts and this may seem like a daunting task to you. It isn’t really realistic to log into every checking, savings, credit card and IRA account on a daily basis.
However, this can be much simplified through use of a personal finance software program such as YNAB, Mint or Personal Capital. You can easily and quickly import your transactions and scroll through them regularly to take sure that there is nothing fraudulent going on. Tracking your expenses regularly is a great tool in personal finance anyway, so it will be doubly beneficial to you.
This is vital that you follow each of these steps to make sure that your personal financial information is kept safe and secure. You won’t regret a minute of setting up these precautions!