Money & Career

How to protect your online financial information

Photography by Jeff Coulson Image by: Photography by Jeff Coulson Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

How to protect your online financial information

As they say on Twitter, ICYMI (in case you missed it), online threats are on the rise. Attacks aimed at a specific user, company or organization are up a whopping 91 percent in the last two years, say experts at Symantec, a tech security firm. Meanwhile, data breaches at companies (which can affect millions of customers) are up 62 percent. Another startling fact: Thirty-two percent of Canadian smartphone users have experienced mobile cyber crime over the past year. (Sixty percent of Canadian users aren't aware that security solutions for their phones exist.) Whether you enjoy the convenience of online shopping, banking, trading or other finance-related activities, you can bump up your online security with these tips.

1. Install a security suite
Don't settle for a basic antivirus program that you downloaded for free or that  came with your operating system. Purchase a more robust security suite that protects your PC or Mac against malware (malicious software, like viruses, worms and Trojans), key loggers (who can see what you're typing), spam, identity thieves and social media fraudsters. Good security suites might cost $30 to $50 per year for one device, or as much as $150 for multidevice protection. Suites you pay for update more often, so you're always protected from the latest threats.

2. Build a strong password
Take the time to create a password  that is stronger than your child's or pet's name. A secure password is at least seven or eight characters long, and has a combination of numbers, symbols and both uppercase and lowercase letters. Some experts say it's just as effective to use a long string of words, such as "thebluecatontheboat" or lyrics, which should be easy to remember. Change your passwords every three or four months and never use the same password for all of your online activities—someone who determines one password has the digital key to unlock everything else.

3. Watch out for phishing scams and spam
Spam (a.k.a. junk mail) isn't just annoying; it could be damaging, especially if it's a phishing scam, which solicits confidential information or tricks you into installing malware. (Social media scams threaten to close your account unless you confirm that you want to keep it open. Clicking on the link could infect your computer with malware.) Some security suites and web browsers can alert you and block threats, but you'll have to exercise common sense: Ignore emails that claim to be from your bank or your Internet service provider. They will likely ask you to confirm your financial or personal details on a website, or to click on a link or download an attachment. Never, ever fall into this trap. Simply click "delete." Reputable companies will never ask you to confirm your credentials via email. When in doubt, call or write the company in question.

4. Opt for two-step  authentication
Major tech companies, such as Google,  Facebook, Twitter and Apple, as well as  many financial institutions, offer a two-step authentication option when signing into your account. In addition to the standard user name and password, you'll also need a short, randomly generated code that's usually sent via text (SMS) message to your mobile phone or revealed in an app. This serves as an additional security measure to protect your accounts from being compromised.

5. Keep your info to yourself
• Back up financial information and other important data on a regular basis—at least weekly—just in case. Before uploading financial info to a cloud account, encrypt files by adding a password.
• Download the latest free software updates for your operating system. Called "Windows update" for PC and "software update" for Mac (click on the Apple logo in the top left corner), these updates plug security holes, zap bugs and enhance functionality.
• Whether it's at your local café, in an airport or in a hotel lobby, you can take advantage of free public Wi-Fi—often referred to as "hot spots." Don't use these connections for financial transactions, as there could be cyber crooks digitally spying on your activities. 

Keep your credit safe online with these 7 ways to avoid credit card fraud.

This story was originally titled "Safe & Secure" in the October 2014 issue.

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Money & Career

How to protect your online financial information