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JOHANNESBURG - We live in exciting times. Due to the advent of the internet and its myriad applications in almost every industry known to man, we are now able to teach ourselves karate and origami from YouTube videos, invent brand-new jobs from the comfort of our living rooms, and stay in touch with family and friends around the globe.

And that is literally just the tip of the iceberg. These days, our digital options are pretty much endless.

However, all this freedom is not without its pitfalls. The cyber-security experts from Maxtec have a few tips to share to keep your personal data safe when surfing the net.

Rethink your passwords. ABC123 will no longer pass muster. What you need are strong, unique passwords for each of your key accounts. Also, don’t re-use your passwords - corporate hacks are becoming scarily frequent, and a purposeful hacker could very well use your leaked data to log on to more than one of your accounts. If you’re scared of forgetting your passwords, try using a password manager that keeps track of it in a safe place.

Choose multi-factor authentication whenever you can. It may be a bit of drag to go through a two-or three-step process when you need to do an online transaction, but multi-factor authentication (eg an online password and PIN sent to your cellphone) is a wonderful safeguard against hacking. Most South African banks use this technology and it has proved very effective.

Shop safely by checking URLs.Whenever you visit a site with the intent of purchasing something, be sure to check out the website’s URL. Safe sites have addresses that start with “https” (instead of “http” without the “s”) and show a little padlock icon next to it. This means that the site scrambles your data, so it cannot be intercepted by any covert third parties. An additional precaution you could take is to use a credit card with a smaller limit when shopping online, so if the worst should happen, the culprits won’t have access to the bulk of your funds.

Never conduct confidential business via public wi-fi. Internet banking and secure transactions should never be done via public wi-fi. These hotspots are often not secured, and there is no way of telling if they are. Rather play it safe and stick to doing any financial transactions from the safety of your home network.

Misspelled website names plus content equals bad news. One of the ways in which online criminals gain access to your personal information is by setting up copies of legitimate websites. These sites frequently feature misspelled company names and badly written content. If a site seems even slightly dodgy in this way, get out of there as fast as you can.

Realise that anti-virus programs aren’t optional. Spyware, malware and ransomware are everywhere. The most effective way to avoid getting infected is to run a reputable anti-virus protection program, do periodic scans for spyware, and avoid clicking on suspicious email links or websites. Not only for your laptop, but your cellphone too.

Make sure your software updates are automated. Enable automatic updates from operating systems and other software you use regularly. Many of these programs connect automatically to update their defences against known risks.

By following these guidelines, you will be laying the groundwork for a safe and secure web-browsing experience. Rather be safe than sorry - it pays to be cautious, and these basic security tips can mean the difference between safe surfing and a data-loss nightmare.

Supplied by Maxtec

PERSONAL FINANCE