Four Important Things You Must Do to Protect Yourself Online This Year

2013 was a pretty crappy year for Internet privacy, wasn’t it? While Edward Snowden’s leak of the NSA’s classified documents about the electronic surveillance program dominated the news, the recent hacks of Target and Snapchat are equally troubling. With each passing year, our wall of privacy is losing bricks—and the mortar isn’t holding up like it used to. 

Although we can’t guarantee our personal information won’t get into the wrong hands, there are a few steps we can take to make things a whole lot safer. Think of these 5 initiatives as a bit of an insurance policy; it’s all about lowering risk.



It may be slightly more difficult than the dance move, but doing the online 2-step will bring about more joy in the long run. If you only do one thing this year to improve your privacy, this should be it.

What is 2-step verification? The process is simple: each time you sign in to an online service from a new computer or device, the provider will send a special code to your phone. After you enter your password, you’ll be asked to enter the one-time code sent as a text message. This makes it very difficult for hackers to violate you, as your ID and password wouldn’t be enough from them to break in. 

Of course—and forgive me for belabouring the obvious—don’t lose your phone. Making sure you maintain a watchful eye on your smartphone is a biggie, and is important enough to count as one of the ways to protect yourself this year. 

Do the 2-step with:


It’s important to note iPhone owners aren’t as vulnerable to viruses and malware as those with an Android phone because of the inherent security measures put in place by Apple regarding which apps make it onto the iTunes store. Still, this shouldn’t lull those in the iOS camp into a false sense of security. It doesn’t cost anything to protect your phone with an anti-malware app, and for this I recommend Lookout. 

It’s been around for a long time, and doesn’t hog system resources like your typical AV program would for your PC. 

Get it for iOS or Android.

123456? REALLY?

In November of 2013, Adobe was hit by a security breach that may have affected 38 million user accounts. Of those 38 million accounts, do you know what the Top 3 passwords were?

How about: 123456, 123456789, and password.

Yup, these passwords suck, but even those passwords considered “good” a few years ago are almost as bad. Cracking a password gets easier every year.

So why do we keep using such bad passwords for our sensitive information? Probably because we have too many of them to remember and it’s a pain to keep track of everything.

This shouldn’t be an excuse. If any of your online accounts is bogged down with a lousy password, make it a priority to change it today. Along with a number and an uppercase letter, add a special character to the mix as well, like a “#” or a “$.” Also, do what you can to avoid using the same password for different accounts.

Need a good way of remembering all your passwords? There’s an app for that! Actually there are many, but I find 1Password the best for this. Kinda pricey, but consider it a small investment.


Going the extra step to encrypt (basically turning plain text into gibberish) your data goes a long way in the fight against prying eyes. 

A great primer on email encryption can be found here as the details are too complex for the purposes of this article.

Want to keep your text messages private? Again, There are many apps for that, but I find Wickr to be the best all-around solutions. Get it for iOS or Android.

Encrypting your local computer’s files is important, especially if you’re an accountant working on sensitive client data, you’re using a shared computer with your kids, or you just want to hide that folder holding your porn collection. 

Again, there are many solutions out there but I find GPG to be the best resource. It’s also free, and will encrypt both files and emails. 

Get the Windows version here and the Mac version here.

Now go change your password!