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hacker hands at work with graphic user interface around supershabashnyi/ThinkstockPhotos

4 ways to protect yourself from phishing and hacking

Take precautions to protect your smart office computers, laptops.

You probably hear about hacking or phishing attacks regularly. So much so that it may seem impossible to avoid, but there are ways to prevent attacks and protect your information. One of the first steps you can take is to identify vulnerabilities of your digital presence. Here are some common issues and possible solutions to help you:

1) The problem: You have malware on your computer. You downloaded a file and it is malicious in nature. You may have saved a file you received in an email, downloaded a file from your web browser or you may not have even noticed a download occurred.

What you can do: Be proactive and be more attentive to what you download. Only download files from websites that you know and recognize. Make sure that you have antivirus software running regularly on your computer. In addition to built-in software you may have on your computer, free services like Avast or premium ones like Bitdefender.  Consider adding a browser toolbar like the Avast Online Security Plugin for Google Chrome that detects malicious links, as well as an email service that scans email attachments.

2) The problem: Your passwords are weak or all the same. The vast majority of infiltrated accounts are password-related. When you use the same password for every account, you are at risk. Hackers infiltrate a system and gain access to all of the usernames and passwords on that system. They then try those same credentials on other websites, such as banking, email and more. Keeping the same password for all accounts allows them easily gain access when a breach occurs.

What you can do: Use unique passwords for each website, create strong passwords and utilize two-factor authentication. Consider using a password manager like LastPass.

3) The problem: You get an email that appears legitimate, but is not. When a hacker attempts to access your information by tricking you into providing directly, it is phishing. It can lead you to a website that asks you to enter your credentials and may even result in you erroneously downloading malware or ransomware.  

What you can do: If a link or email looks suspicious, do not click on any links. Always go to the originator directly to check. You can do this by visiting their website and addressing concerns with their security team. Some companies also have dedicated email addresses to collect these types of communications. They can also help you to reset your password and recover your account if needed. There is also software and browser plugins that can help you to identify potential phishing, as well as ransomware tools to help protect you. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers additional prevention tips, as well as ways to report phishing emails and texts.

4) The problem: A hacker has pretended to be you and gained access to your accounts. This can happen with emails, retail accounts and even your cell phone service!

What you can do: Add all available security options to your accounts. Security PINS or passwords, security questions, authentication tools – any option they offer, use it. Google Authenticator is one option to help you add another security layer to your accounts.

As always, I encourage you to look for the lock when visiting a website to ensure that it is secure and SSL encrypted – especially when you are entering any type of personal or financial information into a form. You may also see “https” at the beginning of a website address indicating that the site is secure. There is no foolproof way to prevent threats to your online security, but you can take steps to avoid the hook.

Have ideas or an experience to share? Tell me about them on Twitter @nerdsquawk or via email at

The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of Farm Futures or Farm Progress.

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