This article originally appeared on VICE US.
One of the most anticipated days of the year on the internet is finally here: Cyber Monday!
We like to think that every Monday is Cyber Monday, but nonetheless, today is a thrilling day of shopping that can be overwhelming. But fear not, we’re here to help you. Alas, we’re really not that good at shopping tips, but we are very good at “the cyber,” which for us means cybersecurity, information security, hacking.
So, instead, we’d like to offer different tips and advice (for free!): basic suggestions on how to make you and your loved ones safer and more secure on the internet.
The internet can seem like a scary place. And it’s undeniable that there are threats out there, even if you are just an average user. Cybercriminals don’t discriminate, and, in fact, go for the lowest hanging fruit: reused passwords, computers with old vulnerable software, and naive people who may click on sketchy links.
But fear not, there’s a lot of simple, easy things you can do to minimize your risks. If you want to learn about them, and you have some time, please read our comprehensive guide on how to stay safe online.
Otherwise, start right here:
USE UP TO DATE SOFTWARE
Old, unpatched software has bugs that could leave the door open for hackers. Exploiting up-to-date apps and operating systems is becoming increasingly hard, so if you keep your computer and cellphones updated, you’re already doing one of the most important things to protect your data.
If you like PCs, you should use Windows 10, which includes modern anti-hacking features and even Microsoft’s own antivirus. If you want to lock down your PC even further, you could use Windows 10 S, a stripped down version of the OS that only runs certain approved apps and has enhanced security features.
If that sounds appealing to you, you may want to get a Chromebook. These are laptops that run a Google-developed operating system based on the internet browser Chrome. Chromebooks severely limit what software you can use (newer Chromebooks support Android apps). But nowadays, how many apps do you actually use outside of your browser? If you can live with that, then Chromebooks are a good choice.
For Mac lovers, Apple offers free operating system upgrades, so there’s no excuse not to be on the latest and greatest OSX. At this time, that’s Mojave.
PUT ALL YOUR PASSWORDS IN A MANAGER
We all live on dozens of sites. Email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, your bank, and god know how many more we may even have forgotten about.
In theory, all these should have their own, unique, and strong password. I know that sounds hard, but it really isn’t. Thanks to password managers, apps that securely store all your passwords and even help you type them into websites and apps, you don’t have to remember more than one password—the one that’s used to unlock your password manager.
That will become the password to your digital life and will need to be good. Old advice dies hard and many people still say a good password requires random capital letters, symbols, and numbers. You can use those, but the easiest way to make a secure master password is to make a passphrase: several random but pronounceable—and thus easier to memorize—words. There are sites that can help you craft one.
We’ll be honest, setting one up is a bit of a hassle as you have to log all your passwords into the manager. But once you’ve done that you will be not only safer, but your life will become easier as the app will make it almost automatic to log into sites and you won’t have to remember more than one password.
That’s all for today. It doesn’t take too much effort or money to make it a lot harder for hackers to mess with you. And as we said, for more in-depth, exhaustive advice, please read The Motherboard Guide To Not Getting Hacked.
And if, god forbid, you think you’ve already been targeted and compromised, check our guide on how to tell if your online accounts have been hacked.