5 Steps To Increase Your Financial Security Online

As the global economy moves towards a more tech-based financial system, individuals need to re-think the ways that they are protecting themselves from data breaches, phishing attempts, and malicious actors in general. Although daunting if you’re not used to thinking about your personal cyber security, there are a variety of simple steps you can take to make sure you’re safe and set up for success online. Personal finances can be tough enough to manage as is — add the possibility of cybersecurity issues to the mix and things only become that much more complicated. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, 1,244 major data breaches occurred in the U.S. in 2018: While that's fewer incidents than the previous year, it involved the exposure of more than 446 million records - a 126% increase in compromised information from 2017. Yikes!

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Granted, these aren't records lost in personal incidents of identity theft, but are more often the result of carelessness by businesses to whom you entrust your personal info. It’s logical to associate risks to your finances with carelessness by banks and finance organizations, but those breaches represent only 1.7 million of the total compromised records in 2018, which totaled more than 415 million personal records. It is actually often businesses that are less-monitored than the finance sector that fall victim to malicious data attacks. The ITRC's numbers for 2019 to date cite only 30 financial-sector breaches out of 246 in general. With these alarming stats in mind, let's delve into some sound strategies for keeping your personal financial info under virtual lock and key: 

1. Step up your password game

According to Connexus Credit Union, the most common passwords in 2017 were as follows:

  • 123456

  • Password

  • 12345678

  • qwerty

  • 12345

Identity theft is nothing new, which, as far as we're concerned, means the prevalence of these choices practically defies belief. Unfortunately, many folks who are more inventive than that still don't make particularly complex passwords with the right combination of letters, characters and numbers….not that anyone can blame them - it's hard to do! This is why using a password manager, which randomly generates unique passwords and stores them for future use, can be such a wise choice. You can check out a breakdown of password management services here. Also consider adding two-factor authentication for particularly sensitive accounts and apps. On a similar note….

2. Don’t forget about securing your phone!

These days, you’ve probably got as much — or more — going on on your phone as you do on your computer. It’s essential to not overlook securing this piece of hardware that stores so much valuable personal information. Add a passcode to your device, and take advantage of fingerprint activation or any other security measures that your provider may offer. Lastly, consider activating location services through trusted apps such as Find My iPhone in order to track down your device should it go missing.

3. Consistently update apps and software 

There's a fairly constant push-pull dynamic at play between security experts working for financial services firms and the hackers attacking them, with each trying to stay ahead of the other. But when developers issue patches and updates for banking software and apps, they have no way of ensuring that every user - or even the majority of them - are installing these fixes.

If such changes are intended to fix security flaws and other dangerous glitches and you don't install them, you put yourself at serious risk for hijacking of your personal financial info, according to Justin Wetherill of the Forbes Technology Council. To mitigate the chances of this, turn on automatic updates for your smartphone and mobile-device apps, and check to see if that's an option for any financial software you have on your computer. If not, you need to make it a priority to check for upgrades regularly on your own.

4. Take care of your credit 

We use credit and debit cards for the majority of our purchases these days, which is inevitable in such a fast-paced and tech-driven society. But it also requires certain regular security practices. If you don't keep up with them, your essential plastic could be the Trojan horse through which an identity thief robs you of money, information, or both. 

Digital Guardian recommended opting in for automated notifications of charges on your credit and debit card accounts, along with any other transactions involving your bank account. This way, you'll learn of any purchases that aren't yours and can immediately notify your bank or creditor. (Some institutions also offer automated fraud detection services that flag suspicious activity immediately).

Additionally, it's good to avoid entering your PIN into keypads whenever possible and instead process your debit card as a credit card. A few merchants still balk at this because of the small fee they incur for it, but most have gotten used to it and will oblige you.

5. Do not submit personal Info Over free wifi networks

Sure, we all love to grab a coffee and cozy up with a laptop at our nearest cafe, but this isn’t the time when you should be logging in to your bank account or checking up on your credit balances. Public WiFi networks often lack the most basic of security measures, even a password! This makes them an ideal target for hackers and those looking to exploit the personal information of others. Even password-protected networks in public areas are often less secure than they should be, as anyone with the password can start wreaking havoc from the inside. Be thoughtful about when you are entering sensitive credentials, making sure you’re on a trusted and secure WiFi network.

These are just a few tips to get you started on the path to improved cybersecurity, and once you’ve got the basics down you can move on to more complex preventative measures.