Susana Ramírez

5 Ways You Unknowingly Put Yourself In Danger Every Time You're Online

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We'd all like to believe we have the Internet prowess to detect when something fishy is going on. After all, we wouldn't be so foolish as to click a link in an email informing us that our estranged second cousin (who happens to be a prince) suddenly passed away, and left a couple of million in our name under the condition we claim it in the next 24 hours. Foolish Internet mistakes are only made by Internet newbies, right?

Wrong. Chances are, you're not on top of your Internet game as much as you'd like to admit. Those pesky things you know you really should do (like change that password you've had since the last election) or shouldn't do (like share all your information online) matter more than you think.

Even the most Internet-savvy of us can get a bit lax with our Internet security. We underestimate how important it is to protect ourselves and our information online. Check out the following Internet no-nos to ensure you're always practicing fun and safe browsing:

1. Blindly Signing An EULA Or T&C

This is a major oversight too many of us are guilty of. We impatiently click through to the end of a software's End User License Agreement (EULA) or a website or app's Terms and Conditions (T&C) without properly reading exactly what we're signing on to. EULAs and T&Cs are notoriously lengthy, and frankly, they're damn bland.

While the thousands upon thousands of words cascading down the page may seem innocuous enough, they are legally binding. I repeat, by clicking "I agree," you are willingly entering into a legally binding contract.

The bottom line is simple. Unless you thoroughly read through an EULA or T&C, you'll have no idea of the stipulations, demands or clauses contained within the document. Sure, most companies aren't going to include anything too out of the ordinary, but you can never really be too careful.

There are many examples of crazy EULAs, such as how the initial EULA for Google's Chrome web browser contained a clause that stated it had the perpetual license to publicly display absolutely everything you did online using Chrome. Although the offending clause was eventually removed, it just goes to show how a company can really put anything in its EULA.

What You Can Do

As painstakingly annoying as it is to sift through and diligently read every word of what you're signing, it is ideal to do so. However, we know you're most likely not going to do that (unless you're like this guy, who read every single T&C he came across in one week, which, 146,000 words later, made him "want to die").

So, to be more practical, I recommend you at least have a good skim of the next EULA and T&C you sign, and check out this handy overview of the T&Cs of some of the most popular websites on the Internet.

There is a certain peace of mind that comes from knowing whether the company has the legal power to access and utilize your personal information for its own purposes. Plus, you never know when you'll unwittingly sign away your first-born child just to access free WiFi.

2. Sharing Too Much Of Your Life With Absolutely Everyone

According to a study by Facebook, the old "six degrees" theory is out the window. It found that each of its users was connected to every other user by an average of three and a half people. With the advent of social media, increasing interconnectedness means we need to be extra careful about the people we're sharing our information with.

We might only wish to share our photos, status updates and rants with select friends, but there's always a chance they'll be seen by the wrong people. In extreme cases, they might even go viral. Various social experiments, like this note that was shared by over 100,000 people in a couple of hours, show us how rapidly information that is shared on social media can travel.

You also need to be mindful about the things you share about your workplace. Posting a picture of the flowers your colleagues surprised you with is all well and good, but sharing any sensitive information or something that could compromise your company's reputation is a huge no-no.

This is especially the case if you've signed a confidentiality agreement. In this case, disclosing private information could see you out of a job. You might even be embroiled in a messy lawsuit.

You may think you wouldn't be so careless, but these slip-ups can happen innocently enough. You might remember this viral story about the newly-hired Google employee who was swiftly fired after sharing too much about the company on Reddit, thus breaking his NDA.

What You Can Do

Think hard before you post anything on social media. Want to complain about the new guy you can't stand? Save it for a Friday night at the pub. Dying to upload that risqué pic of you to Twitter, complete with hilarious hashtags? It might cost you your current or future job.

Of course, you don't need to go on lockdown mode when it comes to your social media usage, but it's always wise to be a bit mindful of the fact that everything you post has the potential to be seen by pretty much anyone.

3. Being Lax With Your Passwords

Admit it: You have that one "master" password or a couple you interchange between. If anyone was to get his or her hands on them, you'd be royally screwed.

Or perhaps, the passwords you have are weak. This list of the most popular passwords for 2015 shows that "123456" and "password" continue to be used the most.

So, what does a weak password look like? In short (pun intended), it's not long enough, uses dictionary words, hasn't been changed in over two months and is used across multiple accounts. In other words, it's easily guessable by the increasingly sophisticated software that hackers use to access your account.

So yes, this means your favorite password, "ilovepizza89," doesn't cut it at all.

What You Can Do

The good news is, all these common mistakes can easily be fixed with due diligence. Once you make it a habit, it will become second nature for you to keep on top of the following password pointers:

Do:

  • Use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters if they're allowed.
  • Head to password generator for help creating your passwords.
  • Have a unique password for each important account.
  • Use two-step authentication whenever possible.
  • Habitually change your password every 10 weeks.

Don't:

  • Use dictionary words, reverse words, locations, ID names or birthdays. Don't replace "s" with "$" and "i" with "1," as password crackers will detect this easily
  • Log into important accounts on public computers, WiFi hotspots, free VPNs, web proxies or other people's computers if you can avoid it.
  • Forget to log out of all email, social networks and websites that require you to sign in, especially on public domains.
  • Store your passwords in your web browsers.

4. Underestimating Hackers

Gone are the days when a hacking scam screamed out a laughably obvious warning to you. The rate and potency of attacks are increasing rapidly, as hackers amp up their efforts to access, infect or sell your data to scarily impressive heights.

According to Symantec, nearly 1 million malware threats were released every day last year. We see daily headlines about millions of accounts being compromised, thanks to attacks on giants like Spotify, LinkedIn, Sony and Ashley Madison.

"It's gotten to the point where there are just so many hacks, you may have become desensitized to the sheer amount of data that has been pilfered away from the servers of companies," says Motherboard. Their "Another Day, Another Hack" series speaks volumes about the prevalence of this insidious problem we must accept as part of our Internet lives.

Case in point? Ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malware that, after it infects your computer, restricts your access until you pay a ransom to remove the restriction. According to a recent study, "2016 is the year Ransomware will wreak havoc on America's critical infrastructure community."

Think this is overdramatic? These evil geniuses have even eluded the FBI, and have already cost Americans $209 million in the first three months of this year.

What You Can Do

Let's start off simple. First, you need to properly appreciate that hacking is a problem that's not going away any time soon. It is, in fact, elevating rapidly.

As such, you need to start making concerted efforts to protect your computer from this threat. In addition to following the password tips above, make sure you invest in powerful firewall and antivirus programs. Have them set to auto update. Ideally, you will also have any trusted software, Internet browsers and your IOS set to auto update.

5. Not Backing Up Your Data

Almost all of us have personally experienced the soul-wrenching moment when we realize we've lost all our data. Whether it was caused by a computer glitch or a broken computer, the absolute mortification and deep regret you feel as a result of not backing up your data will no doubt hit you hard. Those treasured photos, personal documents, work files and expensive programs will be as good as gone if your computer's contents get wiped.

What You Can Do

If your data means something to you, make sure to start treating it like it does. If you have a lot of large files to back up, make sure to invest in a quality external hard drive.

They're getting ridiculously affordable these days. You can pick up a 1-terabyte external hard drive for around $60. I recommend setting up automatic updates unless you're on the ball about regularly backing up your data manually. Alternatively, if you don't have too many large files, you can always use a handy USB. Again, make sure you're regularly storing your important files in order to prevent potential tears.

Of course, there's a plethora of other measures you can take to better protect yourself and your data on the Internet. The key is to be consistent in your methods. Follow through on fixing any careless mistakes you might be making, and keep aware of how to counteract threats.

By keeping these tips in mind, you will keep yourself from being caught in a rip tide the next time you surf the often volatile waters of the Internet.