It seems like we store almost everything “in the cloud” these days–on social media networking sites, retail sites, or just in our webmail–but have little recourse when those sites become corrupted by forces outside of our control. Sure, keeping your info online is convenient and fast, but what extra precautions can you take to make sure you won’t be hurt by any unexpected hack attacks?
Back It Up
Did you know that you can “back up” your Facebook account? That’s right–plugins like ArchiveFacebook for Firefox can help you back up photos, messages, activity stream, friends’ lists, notes, events, groups, and personal information listed on your profile. After you install the app on your computer, you’ll see the “ArchiveFB” tab on the top of your Firefox browser. Then, once you login to your Facebook account, you can select “Archive” under the tab, and it’ll warn you that it’ll begin to scan your Facebook posts and begin to download them to your computer’s hard drive.
Other programs, like Backupify, exist for coordinating account backups on other sites as well, including Facebook, but also Twitter, Google Apps, Flickr, and Picasa. Backupify will protect a maximum of 2GB of data over 5 different accounts for free; for $5 a month, you can protect 25 accounts and backup up to 20 GB of data. Data backups are performed daily, too. Protecting your cloud data really couldn’t be simpler, and is especially recommended if you conduct important business over any one of these sites (your webmail, in particular.)
Don’t Access Accounts from WiFi Hotspots
Checking your e-mail or social media accounts from a hotel, cafe, or other unsecured WiFi hotspot probably isn’t the best idea, for the simple fact that determined hackers can easily access your personal information. Onguardonline.gov, a government website operated and maintained by the Federal Trade Commission, warns against logging into sites unless they’re fully encrypted. (Encrypted sites usually have https in front of the URL and a lock symbol to the right of the web address.) Hotspots with WPA (not WEP) encryption are probably your safest bet. And if you find yourself traveling with your notebook often, consider signing up for a paid hotspot network like Boingo or T-Mobile that automatically encrypts your sessions.
Cookies track your online activity and store information about your current session on a website. These are necessary for a short while, but if you allow a site to keep a cookie on your for a long time, it can track you even if you’re not on the website. Why is this dangerous? A malicious or malware-ridden site might be using cookies to track you. Delete your cookies selectively by going to your browser’s preferences and viewing them individually, deciding to “never” accept them, or only accepting them from sites you visit (not from third-parties and advertisers.)
Don’t Click On Links In Your E-Mails
One of the oldest phishing scams in the book involves sending a falsified “official” e-mail from a website (whether it’s your bank, a retailer like Amazon.com, or a service, like Skype) telling you to click an embedded link and enter or update your credit card information before “your account is disabled.” These e-mails typically have official-looking logos, and may contain identifying personal information about you that scammers found on networking sites. They might even appear to be from someone in your address book. Some direct you to a phone number, where a “representative” asks for private account or PIN number.
If you really are concerned about your account, type the URL to the site directly into your browser and login. It’s much safer to verify any messages that way.