Keeping safe in the digital age can be both a lot simpler and a lot harder than you might expect. Once you get the hang of it, you can avoid the major threats without too much hassle. However, a little bit of knowledge can lull you into a false sense of security and make you a ripe target for some of the more insidious pieces of malware. Here are three tips that you can use to seal up any holes in your online safety habits.
Regularly Check Your Plugins
One of the most common and subtle ways to compromise someone’s security is to install dangerous plugins on their browser. This is most commonly accomplished inside the installation of another program, often hiding in plain sight as a box that’s checked by default.
At the less malicious end of the spectrum, you have extra toolbars or plugins that change your default search browser. These are often extremely difficult to miss for anyone that is familiar with computers. However, if you only pay attention to the obvious unwanted plugins, you can miss much more insidious ones lurking behind the scenes.
For this reason, you should regularly check your browser plugins. Each brand of browser has a different process for doing this, but you should be able to navigate to the right place through the settings menu. For example, Chrome users should look in Extensions under Settings.
Once there, you should comb over everything you’ve got installed. For most users, it shouldn’t take very long because there are very few options, if any, installed by default. Any legitimate plugins will have a wealth of online information supporting their usefulness, so all it takes is a simple search to determine if any given plugin should be there. If in doubt, disable and see if your browsing experience suffers as a result. You can always reenable later if it turns out that the plugin was helpful.
Try an Alternate Antivirus Scan Once in a While
Everyone knows that you should have an antivirus, and many antiviruses run automated scans from time to time, but that isn’t necessarily enough to keep you safe. Every once in a while, you should change it up and use an alternative antivirus to see if anything has been slipping through the cracks.
For starters, not every antivirus program has the same library of dangerous files that it scans for. Many are very similar, but you might not realize it if your antivirus hasn’t been updating its library lately for one reason or another. Keeping your antivirus honest is one of the best ways to keep your faith in it.
There’s also the possibility that your antivirus has lost some credibility over the years without you realizing it. New companies rise and fall over the years, meaning that your particular antivirus provider might not be the industry leader that it once was. This is doubly true for people using free versions of antiviruses.
Make Your Passwords Memorable
Using strong passwords and changing them from time to time is some of the oldest advice in internet security. However, the best way to put that into practice isn’t quite as obvious as it might seem.
Firstly, there’s always been a big push for passwords that look random. The combination of lowercase, uppercase, numbers, and possibly symbols has long been lauded as the best way to secure your password. However, that can lead to a password that is almost impossible to remember. If you use a similarly cryptic password for each of your online needs, then you might need a separate document to keep all of your passwords straight and that can be quite dangerous.
In truth, you don’t have to use totally random sequences. You can use entire words that have particular meaning to you and even entire phrases. As long as it’s suitably long, the chances of it being cracked through brute force are incredibly low. If you throw in a couple random characters here and there, the probability jumps down to almost zero.
Thus, there is a good chance that using overly random sequences could actually be hurting your security. If it’s incredibly unlikely that either option will be cracked with brute force, then the most likely point of failure shifts to where the passwords are being stored. That’s a significant concern for people that need to keep track of all their passwords, but a total non-issue for people that memorized instead.
Do It All, All the Time
Though these habits are very useful, they don’t mean much if you only apply them sparingly. Try setting up a scheduled reminder to check your plugins, then do the same for your antivirus and check to see what the best current programs are while you’re at it. Set up a reminder to rotate your passwords out, but you shouldn’t do it so often that you run out of ideas far too early. Falling into good habits is the best way to make sure that you stay safe on the internet.