Are You Hackproof?

© Adam Voorhes
© Adam Voorhes

When it comes to safeguarding your digital privacy, you have options. You can freak out every time you order pad thai on Seamless. Or you can go off the grid and move to a cabin in Montana. Given the constant news about hacks—Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase, Sony—neither approach is without its merits. The one thing you can’t do is assume you don’t need to do anything: More than 13 million Americans had their identities stolen in 2013, according to the 2014 Identity Fraud Report, and even if some syndicate isn’t trying to make off with your SkyMiles, there are a lot of Nigerian princes out there. “There’s a tendency to say, ‘They’re not going to go after me,'” says Brian Krebs, a journalist whose expertise is in data breaches. “Cybersecurity is one of those issues people get religion about after they’ve had a disaster.” Avoiding one doesn’t require a Ph.D. in comp-sci. It just takes a few minutes and a broad understanding of who might target you and why. Here, how to prevent a healthy, low-grade paranoia from reaching epic proportions.

1. The Perpetrators: Criminals

What They Want: Passwords, Social Security and credit-card numbers, and any personal information that could help them pose as you.

How they get it: Viruses (and other malware) contracted when you visit websites and activate links in e-mails and texts.

What’s at stake: Scammers can open new financial accounts, run up charges on existing cards, apply for loans in your name, or file for your tax refund.

What you can do

Lately, hackers have favored e-mail subject lines like “Password reset notification” to lure you into clicking on bogus links. “It doesn’t take a lot to cause yourself big problems,” says Jenny Shearer, an FBI cybersecurity expert. Forward suspicious e-mails to a Gmail address and choose “open in Google Drive.” Drive is a hurt locker for harmful viruses, making any fallout Google’s problem, not yours.

The best way to avoid a virus? Don’t use Windows, says David Perry of anti-malware firm F-Secure. Windows isn’t less safe, but since 90 percent of computers run it, it’s where hackers roam—”Windows is the low-hanging fruit of cybercrime,” Perry says. So move to a Mac or be sure to install the updates Windows pushes out and run anti-malware software like BitDefender or F-Secure .

It’s just as key to use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your communications when on public Wi-Fi ( offers a free version). “Logging into airport Wi-Fi without using a VPN is the unprotected sex of the Internet,” says Eva Galperin, global-policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Finally, secure sensitive online accounts with two-factor authentication: After you type in your password, your phone is sent a unique string of numbers for a second login, so thieves would need physical access to your phone to screw with you.

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Source: Details | Scott Alexander

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