There are more than 230,000 malware attacks launched online every day, compared to about 4,000 per day in 2016.

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With more and more of our lives playing out on the internet, online threats are not only becoming a growing concern, but are also more common. Currently, there are more than 230,000 malware attacks launched online every day, compared to about 4,000 per day in 2016, according to recent statistics. Last year, 16.7 million people in the U.S. were victims of identity theft. The most common kinds? Credit cards opened with stolen information, tax refund fraud and spam emails, according to the 2018 Identity Fraud Study released by Javelin Strategy & Research.

Kyle Welsh, BECU
Kyle Welsh, BECU

“Everyone’s online identity is potentially a target for cybercriminals. With people of all ages spending more time online, it’s a good idea to make sure everyone in your family is doing what they can to protect themselves,” says Kyle Welsh, chief information security officer at BECU, Washington state’s largest credit union.

Start with your passwords

“The first line of defense when protecting yourself online is to make sure the passwords you choose are as strong as possible,” says Welsh. “Strong passwords start with creativity. But, did you know the length is the ultimate weapon to a strong password?”

Welsh recommends using the longest possible password you are comfortable with, which includes a minimum of 16 characters. And of course, try to have at least one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter and a number or special character. It’s best if you can choose a different password from one you’ve used before.

One way to vary your passwords, and to add an extra layer of security, is to deliberately misspell words in the password. “Think ‘hiena’ instead of ‘hyena,’ or ‘kiyote’ instead of ‘coyote.’ Or, you can try to insert a number in place of a letter, like ‘h0ckey,’ or ‘Seah4wks,’” suggests Welsh. “Another variation includes using passphrases – a string of words that have meaning to you but will create a long password, such as Hackers1sUnder@appreci@ted.”

Use extra caution with financial information

Most everyone logs onto a public Wi-Fi network now and then, whether at a coffee shop, a store or in a connected public place. These networks are a convenient way to browse the web or read the news, but Welsh cautions about doing anything involving sensitive information while you’re logged onto a public network.

When it comes to your online financial accounts, adding an extra layer of protection is always a good idea. “We encourage people to enable multi-factor authentication on all of their online accounts wherever it is available, just like at financial institutions,” says Welsh. “Multi-factor authentication requires more than one form of identification to log into the desired account. For example, use your fingerprint in addition to a complex password to log into your online banking with your financial institution.”

This extra verification step means that even if someone does get access to your password, they still can’t get into your account.

A good rule of thumb to follow when buying something online or entering any personal information into a website is to make sure it begins with “https.” “The ‘s’ indicates the website is using a security certificate to protect your data from third parties,” says Welsh. “That way, you can use the internet cautiously and safely.”

Talk to your kids and teens

Today, kids are also more commonly at risk for identity theft thanks to ransomware, spam email and other types of online threats. It’s important to talk with them about these threats at an early age so you can keep the whole family’s personal information as safe as possible.

“Talk to them when they’re old enough to start browsing the web,” explains Welsh. “Kids might not realize what they’re clicking on, so it’s important they learn about online safety as soon as possible.”

It’s also essential that children understand that clicking an unknown link from an unknown source is just like accepting a gift from a stranger — it’s dangerous!

Don’t forget seniors

In 2000, only 14 percent of U.S. seniors aged 65 and older used the internet on a regular basis. In 2017, however, that number jumped to 67 percent, according to data from Pew Research Center. The increase means seniors are a growing target for online cybercriminals, so it’s crucial that the older relatives and friends in your life are protecting their online information, too.

“Make sure they know that any computer can be a potential target. Whether they’re at home, at the library or somewhere else, they should use the internet with caution,” he says. Welsh also says to remind seniors that opening any email from an unknown sender welcomes an unwanted risk, especially if there’s an attachment.

Finally, Welsh recommends walking them through the steps to take if their identity is stolen, including notifying your financial institutions and flagging your credit report with one of the three credit reporting agencies. Recovering from identity theft is possible, but it’s most important to play offensive and remain vigilant.

As a member-owned credit union, BECU is focused on helping increase the financial health of its members and communities through better rates, fewer fees, community partnerships and financial education.