Tuesday, December 6, 2022

A guide to protecting yourself from hackers and viruses

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You probably lock your front door at night to keep out anyone who doesn’t belong. Meanwhile, your digital doors could be hanging wide open — and hackers and scammers are quick to make themselves at home.

Cybercrime has exploded during the pandemic as the public and private sectors find themselves besieged by ransomware and individuals struggle to figure out which emails are real and which are trying to steal their passwords. People reported losing $770 million to social media scams in 2021, the Federal Trade Commission says, while spam-blocking company RoboKiller estimates people lost $10 billion to text-message scams last year.

These threats will only get worse as more of life happens online, cybersecurity experts say. And despite our stereotypical image of an online scam victim, young people aren’t any safer than their older friends and family members, according to the National Cybersecurity Alliance’s 2021 Cybersecurity Behaviors and Attitudes Report. Twenty percent of us have already been the victim of identity theft, with about a quarter of Gen Z and millennials reporting that their identities were stolen at some point. They are also more likely to lose money to phishing attempts or personal data in leaks, the report said.

All of that badness is compounded by the fact that no one explains to us regular, non-techy people where these risks come from and how to prevent them. How do we update our home Internet routers so we know the software is secure? How do we know which sites are safe to enter our credit card numbers or other sensitive information? How do we back up our data or remember hard-to-guess passwords, and are public WiFi networks really bad?

Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping that we (and our data) don’t end up in the wrong digital place at the wrong time, we can grab back some control of our cybersecurity and set ourselves up for a safer online life.

The Washington Post’s Help Desk has gathered the easiest and most effective tips for securing your identity, money and information online. Cybercrime isn’t going anywhere, but you can protect yourself from hacks, scams and theft with a few new habits. Call it our digital hygiene checklist. Take a few minutes to click through.

We’ll keep updating this page with new information, so keep coming back. Think we missed an important topic you’d like to learn more about? Let us know through the Help Desk type or by emailing [email protected]



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