Protecting your personal data isn’t just smart these days—it’s a necessity. As the world grows more and more connected, your private info becomes more and more valuable. Whether it’s using leaked info from website breaches to hack into your other accounts or holding your personal computer ransom for money, malicious evildoers won’t hesitate to ruin your day if it puts profits in their pockets. And a recent scary Microsoft Office hack reminds us that local files can secretly be malware in disguise as well.

All is not lost though. Following some basic security principles can help protect you from most of the attacks you’ll find on the World Wild Web. Better yet, these five easy security tasks should take only a short while to get set up. Do them now and sleep easier at night.

1. Use a password manager

pw manager hub 2021Rob Schultz / IDG

On of the biggest security risks these days is password reuse. Major websites and services report massive data breaches on a shockingly regular basis. If you’re using the same email and password for multiple accounts, and any of those accounts leak, attackers can hack into your other ones using the information.

Using strong, unique passwords for every account you own protects against that—but memorizing a different random password for every website you create an account for is next to impossible. That’s where password managers come in. These tools can create strong randomized passwords for you, store the information, and automatically fill in login fields on websites and software alike. Browsers are starting to offer basic password management tools too. They work in a pinch but aren’t good enough overall. Investing in a proper password manager is well worth it (especially because many services offer a free tier).

Our guide to the best password managers can help you find the perfect fit for your needs.

2. Enable two-factor authentication

fido alliance u2f usb authentication oct 2014 Image: FIDO Alliance

The FIDO Alliance’s U2F open standard lets compatible USB key drives and other small devices simplify two-factor authentication.

Most major services now offer a two-factor authentication feature, especially if they handle more sensitive personal data. Turn it on whenever you can. If a hacker does somehow manage to gain access to your login information, 2FA can still save your bacon.

Two-factor authentication requires you to confirm your account two ways before you’re able to log in: with something you know, and something you have. The “something you know” is your username and password. The “something you have” comes courtesy of an authorized tool you have in your possession. Usually, 2FA requires you to input a code that’s either sent to you via text message or email when you try to log in on a device for the first time, or to grab a code from a supported 2FA app, or connect a security device devoted to account authentication. The exact method varies by service, and many offer several 2FA options. Without that code, hackers can’t break into your account even if they have your login information.

Our two-factor authentication guide explains the concept more deeply, and includes our picks for the best 2FA apps and hardware.



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