Five things you can do to keep your personal information safe in the new year

December 29, 2020

​As more of our sensitive data becomes available electronically, we grow more vulnerable to cybercriminals. Keep your personal information safe by using strong passwords for your online accounts.

Chances are good you did some or even all of your holiday shopping online this year. The November 2020 McAfee Labs Threats Report found that online shopping has increased by almost 50 percent since the onset of COVID-19. In addition, many doctors, hospitals, and laboratories now deliver health information through web portals. But while the internet offers us convenience, cybercriminals are becoming smarter and more aggressive. 

The same McAfee report indicates that cybercrime increased 12 percent between the first and fourth quarters of 2020, with 400-plus threats occurring every minute. Along with other activities, criminals are hacking and selling weak passwords on the dark web. Not following safe password practices can make you especially vulnerable to these bad actors.

As you make your New Year's resolutions, take a moment to ensure your online passwords are secure by following these best practices:

  1. Never reveal your password to others. If you write down your password, don't keep it where it's easy to find, like at your desk, and never provide your password to anyone, especially by email or over the phone.
  2. Use different passwords for different accounts. If you've used the same password for multiple accounts and one of the accounts is breached, immediately change your passwords for all accounts that are using that password (or a variant of it).
  3. Make it hard to guess but easy to remember. You should use a combination of length and complexity in your passwords. If possible, make your passwords longer than 12 characters and include as many character types as possible, e.g., lowercase letters, capital letters, numbers, and special characters, regardless of the minimum requirement.
  4. Be careful about using remember-my-password features. Google Chrome, other browsers, and mobile devices that save your passwords may seem convenient, but if anyone gains access to your Google account or gets access to your device, they will be able to access all your passwords.
  5. Use multifactor authentication (MFA) whenever possible. Not all websites offer MFA yet, but it's highly recommended that you enable it on those that do. Even strong passwords can be compromised. MFA allows you to safely gain access to your information by using something you know (your password) and something in your possession (your mobile device).