How to keep your money and personal information safe: insider tips from a hacker


Updated on 26 January 2018

Millions of people fall victim to online scams each year. Keep your money safe with these top security tips from an ethical hacker.

The importance of staying safe online

A staggering 17 million Brits were affected by cybercrime in the last year, new data has suggested.

Anti-virus software firm Norton says UK victims lost a total of £4.6 billion in 2017 alone. 

Clearly, this is a massive issue and we need to do all we can to protect ourselves in an increasingly online-centric world.

To help you stay one step ahead of the criminals, we contacted a professional ethical hacker and asked him to share his top security tips.

His job entails hacking into clients’ websites, networks, and phone applications to see where the weak points lie and recommending the best course of action to fix the holes.

This is why we think you’ll find his insider tips invaluable.

Read on to find out how to keep your personal information – and your funds – safe.

Mix up your passwords

An obvious place to start, but the most important advice is to never, ever use the same password twice.

If one account is compromised, then all your accounts are compromised.

Read more: companies need to get better at protecting our data

It’s OK to lie

“Where were you born?” or “what’s your mother’s maiden name?” are two of the most common questions on websites to ensure your account will be safe from intruders in the future.

These answers aren’t going to be the walls that will keep out any online attackers.

This is because, if you’ve already divulged this information online, anyone could do some digging and find the answers they need.

Don't be afraid to make up some of your information if you can.

Only share genuine info if you must

How to beat the scammers: expert safety tips (Image: Shutterstock)

In general, don’t share personal information with any network or site unless they need to know for a very important reason.

For example, if you’re signing up to a public Wi-Fi hotspot it will ask for your name, date of birth and address.

There’s no legal requirement to be honest, so make it up – keep your real details safe.

The more personal information you share online the more your details are accessible to someone wanting to get their hands on it.

Next time you’re on your social media account, make sure the information you share is minimal.

Your family and friends will already know your phone number, birth date and email address, so there is no need to divulge this information.

If your privacy is important to you, don’t give out your information freely. And, most importantly, don't tell people when you go away.

Tighten up your social media security settings

On your Facebook account, head to the settings cog in the top right corner of the screen, click on Privacy Settings, then Who can see my stuff, then click friends.

This way only your nearest and dearest should have access. With Twitter, go to the settings cog, then Settings.

In this window, you’re able to change all kinds of privacy settings, including making tweets private so only people you allow to view your tweets can see them.

Be wary of ‘free’ apps

It can be possible for hackers to download spyware onto your device through apps.

Before installing, be sure to check the permissions on the apps to ensure they won’t store any unnecessary personal information.

For example, an app for a game doesn’t need access to your network info or contacts list. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and regularly update apps because they will check for security problems.

Clear your browser history

Beat the scammers: expert tips (Image: Shutterstock)

This is quite an important tip to use if you’re going to be using the same device as someone else i.e. your home computer, friend’s iPad etc.

Chrome and Firefox keep a record of what you’ve searched for online, where you’ve been and the sites you may have visited.

This information could be kept for a matter of days or weeks, and so without clearing the browsing history, it’s easier for anyone in contact with the desktop to steal your online activity record.

Be safe and clear it!

What you need to have installed

The most important anti-hacker products to use are: anti-virus software, which scans regularly; and an ad blocker, as this stops unnecessary items making their way onto your desktop.

Some of the best antivirus software applications include: Norton Security, McAfee Total Protection, Kaspersky Total Secure.

It's worth having a shop around to see which software program will suit your desktop best.

Consider a password manager – if you must

A password manager is a programme that allows you to keep loads of more complex passwords in one place, meaning you only need to remember one to access it.

So provided that it's a complex one (at least eight characters, upper and lower case and using numbers and symbols), in theory this is a great idea as it saves having to remember all those different passwords.

However, it has to be pointed at that the password managers themselves could be targeted by hackers. In the last 12 months alone, we saw how OneLogin was breached, exposing sensitive customer data, while LastPass suffered what it called a "major" security problem.

That's not to say all these products are unsafe, just that you need to think carefully before signing up. 

Set up extra layers of security

It’s wise to set up two factor authentication (or 2FA) on all your important accounts.

This is an extra layer of security that requires not only a password and username, but something else – something that you, and only you, have.

This second layer could be: a further piece of information only you know; a key chain or card reader; or biometrics security such as your fingerprint, voice or iris.

By using a username and password along with a piece of information only you know will make it harder for hackers to get access into your personal information and steal it.

Your bank may provide this for your online account, through hardware tokens alongside your card and PIN. Make the most of these!

Keep your security up to date

To ensure you keep your devices safe, it’s best to install an anti-virus software, but be sure to constantly update when possible.

Make sure you use the latest version of your web browser and be sure to install security patches and software updates once they’re available to you.

Technology moves forward so quickly, so the more recent an update the better online protection you'll have.

Beware of using public Wi-Fi

We’ve all heard at some point not to do online banking or other sensitive activities on a public Wi-Fi network. But why?

Well, there are a few issues that could surround a public Wi-Fi network.

The openness of the network can allow snooping, the network may have already been hit and be full of compromised machines, or the hotspot itself could be malicious.

Check your finances often

Take a look at your bank and credit card accounts frequently; daily is best, as this will ensure you keep on top of any untoward transactions.

You can sign up to alerts to be sent to your email or mobile phone for any unusual transactions.

And it’s also recommended that you keep a look out for any public or credit information of yours online to spot unauthorised activity.

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