8 Smart Ways to Protect Yourself (and Your Stuff) Online

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We’ve all heard the basics: Choose different passwords for each account, keep your data backed up, and don't open e-mails from suspicious senders. But beyond this, how can we protect ourselves online? The world of cybersecurity can seem daunting, but there are many simple security measures we could (and should) be taking online, but too often skip. mental_floss spoke with Eyal Sela, cyber analyst at ClearSky, about the best ways to protect yourself online.


Updating your software is essential for maintaining your cybersecurity, as doing so can protect you from viruses that are only susceptible to an outdated version of software or an operating system. “One of the most prevalent reasons for software updates is vulnerabilities,” Sela says. Many of us ignore the pop-up on our screen asking to update our software, but a simple click can often save trouble in the long term.


Limiting your Internet access to trusted websites does not automatically protect you from vulnerabilities; legitimate sites can still be infected through malicious advertisements or third parties.

Additionally, when you install an add-on to your browser, this often grants the add-on access to all your data. For example, an application that gives you statistics on your Gmail account must have access to your information in order to do so. “This is something to be aware of because anyone can develop an add-on for your browser and get access to your data,” Sela says.

Be vigilant about the applications you choose to download to your computer and phone, and minimize the use of anything third-party. “Think about it like giving someone your car to park it. You would only do that with someone you trust,” Sela says. Moreover, anything digital that sits on your computer is inherently vulnerable. With this in mind, “if there’s something you can’t bear to expose, you might want to consider not having it on your computer at all,” Sela suggests.


You can set particular plug-ins, such as Flash, to a "click to play" mode. That way, if the movie hosted on the website you’re browsing is vulnerable, you won’t get infected.

Sela suggests an even further precaution: disabling more widely used programs like JavaScript. He warns this may be cumbersome because many websites won’t function without JavaScript, and you will have to manually update the websites you trust to work on your computer. This may be unnecessary for the average user, but, Sela explains, “Security is a tradeoff. Sometimes you have to work harder to be more secure and it’s up to you to decide how much effort you are willing to put in.”


You can set your online accounts like Gmail or Facebook to require two forms of verification upon signing in. This means that in order to log into your account you’ll have to provide your password as well as a code that is sent to your cell phone in real time.

There are various settings for a two-step verification: You can choose to enable it every time you log in, each time you log in from a different device, or simply once a month, depending on your security needs.


We’ve all heard the horror stories about someone who forgot to back up their photo library or their term paper, only to spill their coffee on their laptop and lose everything. And as such, it's near common knowledge that you need an external hard drive to keep your files safe.

But when backing up, it’s important to know that if your external drive is continually connected to your computer, then it won’t protect your data in case of a hack. If your computer is compromised, your external drive will be, too. “The key issue here is to keep your backup separated from your computer, and only connect it once in a while,” Sela explains.

Cloud solutions are great options, but these platforms can also be compromised if someone breaches your account or the platform itself. If you have important data, Sela recommends keeping a third backup.


You can cover your webcam with a small device when you're not using it as an extra security measure to prevent hackers from accessing your video camera. “You have to be aware that your computer and your phone are devices with cameras and microphones connected to the Internet, and if someone gets access to it, they could get access to your camera too,” Sela says.

In 2013, Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf and several other women learned this the hard way, when a young man hijacked their computers' webcams in order to take photos of them undressing. The perpetrator was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison for his crimes.

Although most cameras have an indicator light that turns on when they are in use, this signal isn't foolproof (or hack-proof). You can use a piece of tape or buy a plastic chip to cover up the camera when you're not using it.


Anyone who has access to your physical devices will be able to easily access your files and data, even if you have a password for your computer. The only way to protect your data fully is to encrypt it. You can use a software like BitLocker Drive by Microsoft or FileVault by Apple to do this. You’ll have to enter an additional password for your computer, but this way your data won't be transferrable to another computer.

Even if you don’t deem your personal data sensitive enough to require this extra step, if you have business-related material or other people’s data on your computer, you may want to consider encrypting it.


You can use a password manager such as KeePass or LastPass in order to encrypt and store all of your passwords. You enter a master password to log in, and then the programs will generate the strongest passwords possible, encrypt, and store them. This solves the common problem of not being able to remember several difficult passwords to dozens of accounts.