By Margaret Daniels

When it comes to keeping your information secure online, sometimes it’s a choice between convenience and security. While we know better – most of us (80 percent) reuse the same password across multiple accounts and rarely change our passwords. Or when we go out to a coffee shop or travel, we use the free Wi-Fi – even though it’s less secure than private home networks and easy for hackers to compromise. With data breaches and identity theft on the rise, you can help protect your information online with a little common sense (like limiting how much personal information you share on social media!) and by following a few basic tips:

Use Strong Passwords
Don’t use easy-to-guess passwords like “123456” or “password,” or the name of your pet or child that cyber criminals could find on your social media accounts. Recent studies show that using longer passwords (12 characters or more) that are made up of words (passphrases) are not only easier to remember but are more secure than a random mix of letters and symbols. And, don’t reuse the same password – cyber criminals will attempt to use a password on multiple sites.

Don’t Autosave Passwords
Many of us like the convenience of the automatic (autofill) settings on our devices so we don’t have to retype our passwords, address and credit card information every time we log in or shop online. However, experts advise against auto-saving passwords because anyone who gets access to your computer will be able to view all the passwords that have been saved in your browser. Instead, consider a password manager like LastPass or KeePass.

Be Cautious of Public Wi-Fi
While public Wi-Fi is available almost everywhere we go these days – restaurants, hotels, airports, etc. – be aware that there are security risks. One common way cyber criminals can intercept your information is by creating fake wireless hotspots that seem real. If you do use public Wi-Fi, just use it for things like checking your news feeds or entertainment – and avoid doing sensitive transactions like accessing your bank account or paying bills online. And remember, anytime you’re not using Wi-Fi on your laptop or smartphone, turn it off. It’s a good security practice and will help save the drain on your battery.

Keep your Software and Apps Updated
Although the prompt that an update is available for your device or laptop always seems to occur right when you’re in the middle of something, keeping your software and apps updated is important to protect against malware and system vulnerabilities. Vendors like Microsoft®, Google and Apple regularly deploy software updates and patches to fix security weaknesses and to roll out new features. Also, as a good security practice, if you have a lot of apps on your phone, routinely go through them and remove the ones you no longer use.

Use Email Wisely
Don’t send emails that contain sensitive information like Social Security or account numbers. Email accounts are easy to hack and one of the most common ways malware is distributed. Only open emails and attachments from people you know – check the sender’s email address and use caution clicking on any attachments so your computer doesn’t get compromised. Behind the scenes, most emails are sent across the internet in plain text that hackers could read. If you need to send sensitive information, make sure you use a secure portal or an email encryption option that scrambles the data in your message.

As a benefit of membership, Arizona Federal members have access to IDProtect™ for no-cost credit monitoring and identity theft resolution services. Learn more at ArizonaFederal.org/IDProtect