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Digital security

Cyber hygiene: 6 tips to keep your information safe online

September 25, 2023

Cyber hygiene refers to best practices you can adopt and precautions you can take to better protect yourself online and avoid becoming a victim of fraud. While scammers might use any number of tricks to try to steal your personal information, there are security practices you can follow to stop them in their tracks. Here are a few of them.

6 smart tips:

Cybersecurity and protecting your personal information

1. Use strong passwords

A strong password should have between 10 and 14 characters and include both lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers and special characters. Never share your passwords with anyone, even people you trust.

Don't pick something that could be easy to guess, like the name of your pet or a family member. Instead, memorize a coded phrase that only you will know. For example, think up a secret sentence and use the first letters of each word and some numbers. That way, your password will only make sense to you.

Use different passwords for all of your accounts and devices, so that if one of your passwords is ever compromised, the damage will be limited to just one area.

Wherever possible, enable 2-step verification (also called "2-factor authentication") to add an extra layer of security. With 2-step verification, you log in to your account using your password plus a second method, such as a one-time security code sent by email or text message. 

2. Protect your personal and banking information

Unless asked for in an official context, don't give out personal or confidential information like your full name, address, phone number, social insurance number (SIN) or date of birth, or the details of your banking, financial or other accounts. Some things, like passwords, should never be shared with anyone—even in an official context.

Think about who's asking for your information, whether they really need it and what the circumstances are. Take a moment to ask yourself these questions to get a better read on the situation. Some examples of useful questions include: Why does this person need this information? Can I just show them my ID instead of handing it over? Do they really need to keep a copy of my information? How will my information be protected? If you're ever in doubt, search for answers from reliable sources or contact the company to confirm that the request is genuine.

It's also a good idea to ask yourself these questions before sharing information voluntarily in other situations, such as entering a contest or posting on social media.

Before you fill out forms online, including when you buy something, make sure the website uses an https protocol to properly protect your data. To find out, look for an icon that looks like a lock in the address bar of your web browser. The address should also start with the letters "https," where the "s" means "secure."

When connecting to the internet, make sure to use secure Wi-Fi networks whenever possible. If you're using a public network, never share personal details or log in to accounts that contain your information. While practical, public networks can be accessed by anyone, even people with bad intentions.

Your privacy online

3. Think carefully about what you share on social media

Social engineering is a technique used by scammers to manipulate you, earn your trust and get you to share confidential information with them. Information shared on social media can be a goldmine for criminals, providing details to make their tactics seem more believable.

Every detail about yourself that you make public is like a puzzle piece for criminals. If they put together enough of them, they can get a detailed picture of your life. They can use that information to steal your identity, create fake websites or send bogus but believable emails that look like they were sent by you.

Be careful not to post personal or confidential information, even by accident or in a photo, for example a picture that shows your licence plate or home address.

Be wary of games, surveys and quizzes on social media, even if the questions and answers seem harmless. People can use the information you provide to set up scams or try to guess your passwords or the answers to your security questions.

For all of your social media accounts, go through your security and privacy settings to limit who has access to your information and what you post. The default settings don't usually provide much security, giving just about anyone the opportunity to learn a lot about you. 

Your online presence

 4. Browse securely

Some websites as well as cybercriminals can use cookies or specialized software to collect information about your online habits, such as what pages you visit, what you search for, what you buy online, and even who your internet provider is and roughly where you're located.

Using a virtual private network (VPN) is a way to encode your connection data and protect your privacy. It disguises your IP address, which makes it harder to geolocate you.

You should also regularly delete your browsing data to minimize your online footprint and reduce the risk of being spied on or targeted by a cyberattack.

And make sure to keep your work and personal lives separate online. If your employer gives you access to an email address, computer or phone, avoid using them for personal use. And vice versa: don't use your personal devices to share work-related information. 

Internet shopping

Make sure you're on a trusted site by looking for a lock icon and the letters "https" at the start of the web address. Also make sure the website contains all the necessary legal notices and terms of sale.

Opt for a secure payment method such as credit card rather than an e-transfer or sending cash by mail. Your Desjardins credit card is protected by a Zero Liability policy, which means any fraudulent transactions will be refunded provided you haven't violated the terms of use. 

Be especially careful when buying from classified ads or websites selling second-hand items. If you'll be making payment in person or otherwise not through the website, there are some best practices to follow. Read our tips on how to avoid classified ad scams.

Online scams

 6. Learn how to spot online financial fraud

Between phishing messages (fake emails and text messages), private messages from people you don't know and scam phone calls, criminals use a range of tactics to extract personal and banking information from their victims.

Even though their techniques may vary, there are some common signs that can help you spot a potential scam. For example:

  • You're given a very short deadline to provide information, refund a payment or respond to an issue, with a reason to make it seem like an emergency.
  • You receive a message that has spelling mistakes or doesn’t look professionally designed but uses the logo of a well-known brand.
  • You're told you won a prize, you’re sent an unexpected money transfer or you receive an offer that seems too good to be true.

Scammers usually try to create a sense of urgency or pique your curiosity to get you to act without thinking and let down your guard.

More tips to help you protect yourself and recognize and report scams:

Practising good cyber hygiene is a way to make the time you spend online more secure. To reduce your exposure to cyberthreats, make sure to choose strong passwords, protect your personal and confidential information by limiting who you share it with, and be alert and use good judgment when you're online. Start following these best practices today to browse the web with peace of mind.