Tech is always changing, and so is the way we use it. That means we are always finding new ways to let our guard down for bad actors to snoop on our data.
Remember when you shared your address book with that trendy new app? Or when you posted photos on social networks? Those actions may all pose consequences that weaken security for ourselves and the people we care about.
Vijay Balasubramaniyan, the chief executive of Pindrop, a security firm that develops technology to detect fraudulent phone calls, said we should always remember that any piece of our identity we post online could eventually be used by fraudsters to hijack our online accounts.
“Your digital identity, which comprises all your pictures, videos and audio, is going to fundamentally allow hackers to create a complete persona of you that looks exactly like you, without you being in the picture,” he said.
So here are some of the most important guidelines — like strengthening passwords and minimizing the data shared by your phone camera — to keep you and your loved ones safe for the foreseeable future. I refer to these as the five tech commandments in the hope that you will remember them as if they were gospel.
Thou Shalt Not Use Weak Passwords
Let’s talk about bad password hygiene. About 45 percent of Americans use weak passwords that are eight characters or fewer, according to a survey by Security.org, a research firm. (Fourteen percent used “Covid” in their passwords last year.) The majority of Americans also acknowledged reusing passwords across different sites.
This opens doors to many security issues. Weak passwords can be easily guessed by hijackers trying to gain access to your account. And if you use the same password for multiple sites, like your banking account, Target shopping account and Facebook, then all it takes is for one of those sites to be hacked to make all those accounts vulnerable.
For most people, the simplest solution is a password manager, software that helps automatically generate long, complex passwords for accounts. All the passwords are stored in a vault that is accessible with one master password. My favorite tool is 1Password, which costs $36 a year, but there are also free password managers like Bitwarden.
The other option is to jot down passwords on a piece of paper that is stored in a safe place. Just make sure the passwords are long and complex, with some letters, numbers and special characters.
Use Multifactor Authentication
No matter how strong you make a password, hackers can still get it if they breach a company’s servers containing your information. That’s why security experts recommend multifactor authentication, also known as two-step verification.
Here’s how two-factor authentication has generally worked: Say, for instance, you enter your user name and password for your online bank account. That’s Step 1. The bank then sends a text message to your phone with a temporary code that must be punched in before the site lets you log in. That’s Step 2. In this way, you prove your identity by having access to your phone and that code.
Most mainstream websites and apps, including Facebook and major banks, offer methods of two-step verification involving text messages or so-called authenticator apps that generate temporary codes. Just do a web search for the setup instructions.
If a company doesn’t offer multifactor authentication, you should probably find a different product, Mr. Balasubramaniyan said.
“If a vendor says, ‘All I’m doing is passwords,’ they’re not good enough,” he said.
Thou Shalt Not Overshare
Many of us rely on our smartphones for our everyday cameras. But our smartphones collect lots of data about us, and camera software can automatically make a note of our location when we snap a photo. This is more often a potential safety risk than a benefit.
Let’s start with the positives. When you allow your camera to tag your location, photo-management apps like Apple’s Photos and Google Photos can automatically sort pictures into albums based on location. That’s helpful when you go on vacation and want to remember where you were when you took a snapshot.
But when you aren’t traveling, having your location tagged on photos is not great. Let’s say you just connected with someone on a dating app and texted a photo of your dog. If you had the location feature turned on when you snapped the photo, that person could analyze the data to see where you live.
Just to be safe, make sure the photo location feature is off by default:
On iPhones, open the Settings app, select Privacy, then Location Services and, finally, Camera. Under “Allow Location Access,” choose “Never.”