life-hacks

The new year is the time for resolutions, and what better way to enhance your peace of mind than to resolve to improve security? Here are some life hacks – or strategies to manage your life more efficiently – that you can adopt to improve online security, safeguard your home and protect your personal information. All are free or cost only a nominal amount.

Adopt two-factor authentication

If you read this blog regularly, you know about the benefits of using two-factor authentication (2FA). Adding a second layer of protection via a challenge question, hardware device or code sent to your mobile phone improves security by orders of magnitude.

The number of online services that use 2FA is still abysmally low, but it’s growing. The crowdsourced Two Factor Auth list tells you which websites support 2FA and what tools they use. For those that are still stuck on simple password protection, there are links to Facebook, Twitter and email accounts you can use to encourage them to get on the ball. The transportation industry still has a lot of work to do.

See if you’ve been compromised

With online credential theft now nearly an everyday occurrence, you can never afford to be complacent. These four sites help you learn if you’re a victim.

  • Have I Been Pwned? is a database of nearly two billion credentials from more than 165 hacked websites and password files. Plug in your email address and find out if your username and password may be in play. The site won’t fix the problem, but at least you’ll know where you may be vulnerable.
  • BreachAlarm is a similar service that includes a subscription component to notify you immediately if your name shows up on a compromised list.
  • Sucuri is great if you own one or more websites. Plug in the URL and it’ll scan your site for malware and also check you against blacklists.
  • The Internet of Things Scanner checks your internet-connected devices against the Shodan IoT database. If your devices are there, they’re accessible to the public – and to criminals.

Change of habit

  • Do you use public Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or library? If so, there’s a good chance the connection isn’t secure and someone sharing the network can steal your keystrokes. At the very least, make sure you use the “public network” option when connecting, turn off sharing and enable your firewall. Here’s an excellent tutorial on how to stay safe on public Wi-Fi.  
  • What would you do if your wallet and all your credit cards were lost or stolen? It takes hours to track down all those account numbers and call all those customer service numbers. Save yourself the hassle by scanning the front and back of each credit card and emailing the scans to yourself. Use the subject line to identify the credit card and you will never have a problem looking up the account or 800-number.
  • Redditor suggests that you change the way you think about security challenge questions. It’s so easy these days for attackers to find out information about you that details like your mother’s maiden name or your high school mascot are no longer very effective. Instead, treat them as a second password by adding
  • numbers or gibberish letters that make your answers impossible to guess. Or choose a response that makes no sense as answer to the question. Was your first pet really named Hong Kong?
  • Create an email address on a public service like Gmail or Hotmail that you use just for filling out forms on sites you never want to hear from again. You can then create an email filter that sends all communication to that address directly to the a seperate folder or the trash. Or if you really never want to hear from the site again, use 10 Minute Mail to create a temporary, self-destructing email address.
  • Never store credit card numbers on e-commerce sites. The minor convenience you gain is more than offset by the risk of having the customer database hacked.

Protect your privacy

  • When was the last time you reviewed your privacy settings on social networks? Cybercriminals love social profiles because they serve up all kinds of information that can be used to hack online accounts and even tip off burglars when you’re not home. AdjustYourPrivacy.com has links to the privacy pages of most of the major social networks. It also shows you what the world sees when it looks at  your public Facebook page. And it has a cool list of search engines that will show you what’s out there about about yourself.
  • Here’s a great idea from Reddit for how to find out who’s selling your information. When you fill out a web form, use the name of the website as your first or middle name. That way you’ll immediately know who’s responsible for spam or unwanted promotions.
  • How much do you love tele- and robotic marketers? We thought so. Ban them forever by signing up at Nomorobo. The service keeps a massive list of known telemarketing sources and automatically sends their calls to a voice message telling them to get lost. A single land-line is free.

Physical Security

  • If you’re going away on vacation for two weeks, don’t brag about it in public on Facebook. If you just can’t resist, at least review the post privacy settings to limit visibility to your close friends.
  • While you’re away, make sure your house looks lived in. Have your mail held and lawn mowed. Leave on a couple of lights and a TV or radio. Ask a neighbor to park a car in your driveway. Ex-burglars say that’s one of the most effective deterrents you can use.
  • If you want to really get fancy, trace the outline of a body on a large piece of cardboard. Cut it out and lean it against a chair or window. Close the blinds and it’ll look like you’ve got your own personal security guard.
  • Even if you don’t have a home security system, you should put up signs and stickers saying that you do (you can easily buy them online). You’ll make burglars think twice. Throw in a couple of “Beware of dog” signs while you’re at it.