How to Protect Personal Information Online: 7 Ways

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Ways to Protect Your Personal Information Online

Businesses invest in cybersecurity tools to keep their information safe and protect their bottom lines. Data breaches can get expensive, with the average breach costing $4.45 million in damages in 2023. Cyber hackers continue to get smarter and use outside-of-the-box methods to steal personal information that doesn’t belong to them. While businesses invest in enhancing cybersecurity, consumers must take steps to maintain their personal identity protection. While cyber hackers operate in a lucrative industry, you can take steps to help protect your personal information online by following a few strategies. Read on to learn how to protect personal information online.

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Why it’s important to protect your data online

Data protection seems mundane, but it can save you from major headaches and hours on the phone to other outcomes, which, in extreme cases, may be financial ruin. Hackers often use victims’ financial information to take out loans, seize assets, and apply for government benefits. Some hackers use victims’ personal IDs to commit illegal activities while hiding their true identities. This approach allows hackers to temporarily evade liability and pin the blame on the identity theft victim. 

However, most instances of identity theft don’t elevate to those extreme levels. More likely, you’ll find an unauthorized charge on your credit card. But the risk is always present, and why take that risk in the first place? You don’t have to commit hours daily to protect your personal information online. A clear system will help ensure you can protect your information without monitoring it. 

7 strategies for how to protect your personal information online

It’s your responsibility to keep your personal data safe online. These strategies to protect your account from online fraud can help you use online apps and websites while reducing your identity theft risk. 

1. Install anti-virus software on your computer

Antivirus software monitors your device for incoming or existing viruses and works to block them. This type of software protects your computer in one or more ways. Some antivirus software scans programs and files as they enter your device and compares them to known viruses. Others scan programs already on your device to locate any suspicious behavior. The best antivirus software does both.

Since viruses can corrupt your files or access personal information, preventing issues is usually a better strategy than damage control after an attack. Choosing a well-reputed, highly-rated antivirus software can help avert problems down the road. 

2. Change your passwords periodically

Companies try to keep their customers’ information safe, but data breaches can still happen, with everything from small businesses to major hospitals falling prey. In 2022, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and personal social media information were leaked in large-scale breaches, and in 2023, over 8 billion records were breached. You can’t do much about those data breaches now; it’s too late because the companies involved left their platforms vulnerable, and hackers have been able to exploit the slightest vulnerabilities.

During these breaches, hackers steal information like usernames and passwords. If you use the same username and password for all your online accounts, a hacker can do a lot of damage if they access other accounts. For instance, if your Facebook email and password are the same ones you use for your bank account, a savvy hacker can access your bank account and make unauthorized transactions.

Changing your passwords periodically and using different passwords on each website will help mitigate this risk. Using unique, strong passwords protects you from systematic risks. One password breach won’t give a cybercriminal the keys to all of your online accounts. Changing your password every one to three months reduces each account’s risk. Likewise, if a hacker obtains one of your passwords, periodic password changes can quickly make that information out of date. Find more tips to protect your account from online fraud here

3. Update your devices

Software updates may seem inconvenient, but they serve an essential security function. While you have to wait several minutes before you can use your device again, and it doesn’t look or function much differently, updates often fix patches and vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit for personal gain. Updating laptops and smartphones when new software becomes available can protect your personal data from unethical hackers.

4. Use two-factor authentication

If you received a text message containing a six-digit code or a confirmation link via email, you use two-factor authentication. Two-factor authentication forces you to perform an extra step before logging into your account. This extra step, however, is an extra layer of protection, which means a hacker will need more than your username and password to access your online accounts. You should enable two-factor authentication for any website that lets you use it, from Gmail accounts to Facebook to work-related websites. 

5. Don’t put too much on social media

Social media lets you connect with family and friends. Some people use these platforms to pursue career opportunities or build an online following. But if you put too much information on your accounts, hackers could use it against you. If you post about your vacation, it tips criminals off that you aren’t home. 

Posting details like your location, birthday, and other specific personal information can also make you susceptible. Hackers can use this information for everything from stalking to applying for loans under your name and for other malicious reasons.

6. Use unconventional answers to security questions

Some websites present security questions that you must answer correctly to access your account, reset a password, or perform a similar task. Hackers can access important information by correctly answering these security questions. Because many of these questions are basic, a hacker may find the answer on your social media profile.

For instance, if the security question asks for your dog’s name, a hacker can search your social media accounts for posts about your dog. Hackers have many routes to obtain information that can help them answer basic security questions, but you can throw them a curveball. Instead of having the security answer be your dog’s name, you can opt for a security answer like “Soccer” or “Apple Tree.” Those two responses aren’t typical names for a dog and are the types of answers a hacker would never guess. 

Likewise, if there are more unusual questions that only those closest to would know – choose those. For example, some websites ask what you wanted to be as a child, your favorite artist, or your favorite pizza topping. 

7. Use a VPN

A virtual private network (VPN) protects your online data if you use public Wi-Fi. VPNs use data encryption to prevent others from knowing your internet traffic and mask your IP address. Not even your internet service provider can see what websites you visit online. Internet service providers can sell your information anonymously, so keeping them off your personal history and data can make your information safer.

Creating strong security habits

Companies invest considerable money to keep your information safe. Despite their best efforts, some breaches happen and you should be prepared. Protecting personal information requires proactive steps and can impact how much of your data stays safe and how much of it gets stolen. Using the same passwords for everything, relying on public Wi-Fi, and not installing antivirus software makes you more vulnerable. 

Protecting your personal information on the web and taking a proactive approach is important for your peace of mind and your long-term financial protection. Learn more about how to avoid online banking fraud, or consider implementing biometric authentication


What should I do if my personal information gets compromised online?

If your personal information gets compromised online, you should act quickly. First, change all your passwords to protect your accounts, and set up two-step verification if you don’t already have it. Then, if your Social Security Number is compromised, contact all three credit bureaus to freeze your credit, and contact any banks or credit card issuers of affected accounts. 

What’s a good way to keep personal information private online?

To help keep personal information online private, follow strong security procedures: use well-reputed antivirus software, a VPN, and two-step authentication on all accounts. Change passwords every few months to increase security. In addition, create strong passwords, don’t overshare on social media, don’t click on links in emails (to avoid phishing), and don’t download attachments from senders you don’t know.

How can you make sure that your private information stays private?

To help ensure your private information stays private, take all the necessary security steps listed above. In addition, take steps to keep as much private information offline and off computers as possible. 

What is the biggest risk to my personal information online?

The biggest risk to your personal information online is actually your own actions. Unsafe social media postings, clicking on links in emails imitating financial institutions or other trusted sources, and transmitting sensitive information over public WiFi are some of the main ways your personal information can be put at risk. 

What is the best way to protect your personal information?

The best ways to protect your personal information include backing up data, creating strong passwords with two-step authentication, being careful of emails requesting information, using antivirus software and a VPN, and protecting your device by not leaving it unattended in public.  

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