While the big data breaches are the ones that make the news, data protection is also personal protection. Your life can be turned upside down with one simple breach that allows malware, spyware, and viruses into your computer to wreak havoc. Your photos, your finances, and even your social media presence can be targets for malicious hackers either out for fast money or just the thrill of doing harm. Take steps right now to reduce your risk and keep your peace of mind.

  1. Monitor your children’s Internet usage. With younger and younger kids having access to sophisticated technology without having much in the way of life experience, children are sometimes targeted because they are vulnerable to scammers, deceptive marketing, and are easily bullied and deceived.
  2. Secure your home network. Keep your network secure from Wi-Fi freeloaders and snoops by changing the default ID and password on your router. Choosing WPA2 encryption will also help to keep your network’s privacy intact.
  3. Firewalls and antivirus programs are vital programs. But simply installing them isn’t enough—don’t neglect them once they’re installed! Automate your updates and scans to help keep your machine clean and running smoothly.
  4. Update your operating system. As much as you love Windows XP, you are exposed to threats by continuing to use an OS that is no longer supported or updated.
  5. Back up your computer frequently. Create restore points in the event of a disaster—but this can’t save everything, so use a cloud service or an external hard drive to ensure you won’t lose anything irreplaceable.
  6. Learn what makes for a strong password and how to keep it safe. Lazy password practices can lead to data breaches, so as tempting as it is to do something like p@55W0rD, odds are that a even an inexperienced “hacker” would blow right through it. Change passwords every 60 to 90 days, or immediately if you think you’ve been hacked.
  7. Use two-step authentication wherever possible online. Two step authentication is an additional step added onto the traditional password, and it consists of either a security question or some other information or code that only the real account holder could have. For instance, Google two-step authentication uses a password and then sends a numerical code to your phone that you use to complete your login.
  8. Be aware of what you are downloading or agreeing to when you click on something. A pop-up blocker can keep your machine free of adware, malware, spyware, and viruses that are just waiting for a hasty click. Only download games, software, or other programs from a trustworthy source.
  9. Be wary of emails from legitimate-sounding businesses (and friends and family, too) that contain links or request information. If the email seems out of the ordinary for a family or friend, or if a business is telling you that you must provide financial information or passwords, ensure that they are indeed authentic. If you have any doubts about the origin of an email sent to you, call the business or person and ask them. Do not call any numbers or reply to any emails in the body of the message.
  10. Download and install a kill switch program on your mobile device. This can prevent data from falling into the wrong hands. Enabling VPN on tablets, smartphones, and laptops will keep your data safe when you have no choice about making use of a public Wi-Fi network.

There is also some debate as to the value of identity theft protection services, which can cost as much as $300 per year. The big names in the industry such as Affinion, Capital One, Discover, Experian, and LifeLock have taken a beating from regulators over deceptive marketing practices and false claims of actually prevent identity theft.

There are many do-it-yourself steps that you take yourself, such as checking your free annual credit report to detect fraud. Each of the three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—is required to give one free credit report per year; stagger these reports so that you can check your credit three times a year, with one report after the holiday season.

If you closely monitor your finances online (preferably with two-step authentication enabled) and take basic precautions for transmitting your information online, your data will stay secure.