During times of crisis, it’s natural to focus on what’s most important in life, such as your children, pets, health and finances. Data security may not be top of mind for you right now, and cyber criminals know it. While we are concentrating on other priorities, they are busy looking for opportunities to take advantage of our fear and need for health, safety and financial aid information.

Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to protect yourself:

  1. Create Complex Passwords – Creating strong, unique passwords for each of your accounts is a critical first step in keeping your data safe. You should also consider changing your password regularly.
    : A password manager can relieve the frustration of keeping track of multiple passwords. Many reputable password managers, such as LastPass, even offer free versions.
  2. Protect Your Mobile Devices – Mobile devices present their own set of dangers, such as unknown links sent by text message or risky apps. Remember to install updated security patches to your smartphone’s apps or operating system and only respond to messages from people you know.
    : If you use a smartphone, set your screen to lock automatically when not in use.
  3. Avoid Public Wi-Fi – The free Wi-Fi that your hair salon or local coffee shop offers is often unsecured, and it easy for hackers to access your device or information while you’re using it. If you must use public Wi-Fi, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) software or your smartphone’s hot spot capability to create a secure internet connection.
    Tip: Low-cost VPN apps are available for your mobile device, although it’s best to avoid free VPN apps.
  4. Use a Firewall – A firewall is an electronic barrier that closes off unauthorized access to your computer or devices. When you use a firewall, you ensure that all devices connected to your network are secured. A firewall also closes off vulnerable points of entry to your network, such as webcams and smart thermostats.
    Tip: A firewall only works well if it is current. Be sure to install as security updates and patches as they are released. Replace your firewall when it no longer has manufacturer support.
  5. Click Carefully – Online quizzes, free offers and spam emails are common phishing techniques used by cyber-criminals to trick you into sharing personal or sensitive information. The IRS warns that thieves are using text scams related to COVID-19 and/or Economic Impact Payments to trick taxpayers into disclosing personal and financial account information.
    Tip: Rather than clicking on a link, navigate directly to the company’s website to ensure the page you are seeing is legitimate.
  6. Shop Safely – Only shop or bank online when you can ensure that the website’s address starts with “https” instead of just “http.” That “s” means the site is secure and uses encryption to scramble your data so cyber-criminals can’t tamper with it.
    Tip: Websites using https will also show a padlock icon in the address bar.

While we all have a lot on our minds right now, it’s important not to lose sight of other factors that affect your long-term security, including your approach to keeping your online data protected.