8 ways to avoid getting hacked

I have been involved in providing automated solutions for businesses for years. I have prepared detailed presentations and spoken at events, repeatedly warning clients and our staff how to avoid being hacked. However, a couple of weeks ago I was on the verge of being a victim.

What happened? I was at a Chicago parking meter trying to use my credit card to get a parking ticket for my car. The card failed the first time, but after a few tries it finally passed. I attributed the incident to freezing weather and a frozen parking meter. Seconds later, I received a text message that said, “Your card has been restricted. Call us at 312-985-5635.” I had received a similar email from VISA in the past when my card had been hacked.

“312” is a Chicago area code, and I thought VISA was concerned about multiple attempts on the meter, so I was about to call the number, but I was suspicious. Instead, I called the VISA number on the back of my card. VISA said my card was not on hold and everything was fine. Always call the number on the back of the card! Case in point: never let your guard down. A simple match like the one above can make it seem real and logical. I did a web search on the phone number and it is indeed a known fraudulent phone number.

What are some common ways you can protect yourself?

  1. Avoid phishing emails. 156 million are sent daily worldwide. 10% fall for a scam and share your personal information. Any email that suggests great urgency or entertainment value, especially with a link, should be avoided. A clever trick used is to emulate a popular email address with just one letter changed. When you are in a hurry (and who is not) it is very easy to click on them. Would you click on an email from DisneyyWorld.com, with a picture of Mickey, to see a tempting vacation deal?
  2. Avoid smiling texting. Same as phishing but for sending text messages.
  3. Use various security programs and update frequently. Don’t trust just one program. Not making updates is the same as not having them because new viruses come out every day.
  4. Stay away from “spooky spots” when browsing. If you have a terrible feeling that something is wrong but you have already clicked on the site, there is an easy way to check if it is safe. In Internet Explorer┬«, click on the image of the padlock in the upper right of your browser. That will check the site’s validation certificate to let you know if it matches. If the site is okay, it will say “This certificate is okay.” This means that whoever says they own it does. If you are on Chrome┬«, you need to click on the 3 dots and go to More Tools and then go down some layers to find this under Security. Some browsers do not support this feature. Be very careful what you click when you power surf.
  5. Create a better password. Use 2-factor authentication. Never store passwords on your computer. Update and vary passwords routinely. Use 20 characters or more. If you can’t live with doing all of these things, at least pick a few things that will be better than doing nothing.
  6. We all know ghost messages from friends. Some respond to emails that they did not send. Most contain a tempting link that you never want to click. Interestingly, while writing this, I just received one of these. Very common. Easy to click quickly. Look carefully before clicking.
  7. Computer locked. While browsing, you receive a terrifying message of how the police have detected a virus on your computer. It has been blocked by Ransomware. Do not pay. It won’t make any difference.
  8. Ignore “pop-up” ads that tell you that a computer virus has been detected. Often these tell you to click and the virus will be removed.

Hackers / viruses are a very serious problem. In general, all circumstances can be avoided by incorporating a simple thought process before proceeding and taking appropriate precautions. Everyone is rushing through their day, which is why quick clicks are very common and hackers know it. It is always best to read the content completely and evaluate all emails and text messages before responding in any way. If you don’t have time to fully evaluate it, please leave the message until you have time to read it carefully. Keep your antivirus updated and browse safely!

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