5 Ways to Protect Yourself From a Data Breach

Written By Mary Beth Eastman
Last updated November 23, 2019

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padlock over credit card and laptop keyboard representing identify theft protection
October 2, 2017

Simple. Thrifty. Living.

Occasionally the media presents a story in which a major company suffered a data breach, with thousands of records of personal data stolen by hackers. But data breaches don’t just affect big companies — thousands of small businesses and individuals suffer attacks by hackers and identity thieves every day, and many of the victims don’t even know until it’s too late.

Thankfully, there are certain steps you can take to protect your computer from hackers and significantly reduce the risk of sensitive information being stolen before you’ve had a chance to monitor your credit.

The most important thing you can do to protect your data is to install a good virus protection program. Hackers often gain access to a computer by using a type of programming similar to some viruses, referred to as malware or spyware. Many individuals often unknowingly download malware by accident.

Virus protection software will recognize malware and spyware and alert you to the intrusion, as well as stop the virus from attacking your computer or stealing your data.

Every computer comes equipped with a firewall, which is a defensive program that prevents unauthorized access to the computer. This is another strong line of defense and, when coupled with virus protection software, presents an incredibly strong barrier against hackers.

Hackers often take advantage of security flaws in a computer system’s programming. The annoying update popups that you see shouldn’t be ignored. Often they contain fixes for those security flaws, helping to prevent hackers from exploiting them. Virus protection software should also be updated regularly, as hackers are always trying to discover new ways to get past the protection.

Tip: Use a cloud-based virus protection application. It will automatically download updates as soon as they are released so that you’ll have the latest protection.

Airports, hotels, coffee shops and many other establishments offer free Wi-Fi. But accessing sites like your bank, credit card institutions, eBay, PayPal, etc. while on public Wi-Fi may allow hackers to steal your data. Savvy hackers can hijack a public Wi-Fi signal and see the data that is being transmitted, such as usernames and passwords.

Using different passwords for each site prevents hackers from gaining access to them all if they do happen to get one password. Use an app such as Password Manager to keep track of your different passwords. And don’t tell anyone who doesn’t need to know — quite often co-workers and even family members can be the culprit.

About the Author

Mary Beth Eastman

Mary Beth Eastman serves as the content manager for Simple. Thrifty. Living, where she is dedicated to helping readers use money and credit wisely. Mary Beth believes that access to the right financial information paired with a growth mindset are essential tools for getting out of debt and building wealth. Mary Beth has a degree in Journalism from Bowling Green State University and has focused her 20-year journalism career on putting readers front and center, carefully considering their concerns and presenting information that will help them in their everyday lives. She has won numerous statewide journalism awards. Her writing on personal finance as been featured on numerous websites in addition to Simple. Thrifty. Living, including Huffington Post and Lexington Law blog. Mary Beth resides in Pittsburgh, Pa., with her family and two rescue dogs.

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