The year 2020 was perhaps the most challenging ever experienced. A global pandemic devastated the economy took lives and wreaked havoc on countries around the world.

Fortunately, there is now a vaccine that is being distributed that will put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that is still months away.

Unfortunately, COVID-19 is not the only epidemic that we’re facing.

There is also a data breach epidemic that is striking people and businesses all across the world, and the U.S. is no exception. Each day you hear about some foreign country hacking into our most secure governmental agencies, from the Pentagon to Intelligence Agencies to the State Department. One of the leading cybersecurity firms in the nation, FireEye, was recently hacked, and the cyber criminals stole valuable computer tools that will enable these crooks to continue their hacking at will.

Sadly, for some people, it isn’t only the government agencies that are the targets of cyber criminals. The year started with a breach of Microsoft, with 250 million customer records hacked. The epidemic continued month after month, with notable companies like Facebook, Instagram, Barnes & Noble, MGM, unprotected Google Cloud accounts, and many others being hacked, totaling billions of stolen information records, including names, email addresses, IP addresses, and additional data. Plus, it’s very costly to companies that are hacked. One estimate puts a price tag of almost $4Million on each occurrence.

How Is all of this possible?

First, you have to realize it’s not only countries doing the hacking. It’s anyone with a computer and some strong IT knowledge who can see dollar signs embedded in a person’s private data and information and will stop at nothing to get it. Whether they are out to steal financial information or credit card numbers or simply want to lock the person’s computer and ransom it back to them, they’re busy working day and night to get into every device possible.

It may start with a simple email to an unwitting employee or an individual who clicks on a link for a “free” download or another free offer. The instant that download hits the computer – it’s game over, and the cybercriminal won the contest. All within a few minutes, secure data is no longer secure, the firewall is breached, and confidential and important information is no longer confidential or secure. Go ahead, snap your fingers – it happens just like that.

Verify identity

One way to prevent this is to ALWAYS check to see the validity of the sender. Who is behind that email? Not sure? Head over to Nuwber, an online tool used to identify the name, address, and other pertinent information of a sender using their email address, phone number, or another identifier. You can even use Nuwber to do a deeper dive into that individual’s background including police records. If the person’s identity doesn’t match up with the info on their email – send it over to your spam folder – fast!

Use strong passwords

One of the many ways that cyber criminals gain entry to computers is by hacking passwords. You would be shocked to learn how many people continue to use passwords like “1, 2, 3, 4, 5” – or a street address number or birthdate, regardless of how many times they’ve been told not to do so. Hackers use a long list of “probable” passwords to gain access to a computer. Many times, they’re successful.

The key is to have a strong password. Security experts urge people to use a password with a minimum of 10 characters, including numbers, letters, symbols, with both capitals and lower case as well. Here’s something else – they also recommend using a different password for every account you have on the web. It’s mind-boggling to think of having to remember that much information, as it would take the entire day just to log into several accounts.

The solution is password management tools and software. The top ones include Keeper, Dashlane, 1Password, and LastPass, among others. These will not only manage your passwords for you on each account, they will also generate the passwords. With password security out of the way, you can concentrate on shopping, searching, or doing whatever you choose to do online.

Shop only on secure websites

You may receive an unsolicited email offering a pair of shoes you’ve been eyeing, with a link to a website you’ve never used.

Before clicking on that terrific price, check the website’s URL address; if it doesn’t include the letter “s” in the “https” at the beginning, click out-fast! The “s” means it’s a secure website. Otherwise, it’s anyone’s guess as to who is watching your transaction.

Espresso and hacking

Surf the web at coffee shops or other public places? Before you order your espresso and long on to the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi, stop! Public Wi-Fi spots are not secure. Anyone sitting around you may just be waiting for you to log in so they can capture your login info. Instead, you need to use a VPN – a virtual private network – to do your surfing. They’re not expensive but can save you megabucks by preventing your secure info from getting hacked.

According to PC Magazine, some of the top ones include Surf Shark, NordVPN, and Private Internet Access, among others. All will protect your device from cybercriminals and keep your private information private!

Have you been hacked?

If you’ve found out you have suffered a data breach, take some action. One of the key things to do is contact the 3 major credit bureaus and explain your situation. Monitor your credit and put a credit freeze on your account. That way, the hacker can’t do anything with the financial information they gained access to. The top 3 credit bureaus are Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.

By following these main strategies, you will reduce the probability of getting hacked. No one is 100% safe, but this is a great start to keeping your information private.

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