This year, the internet’s been abuzz with bad news about online security, from North Korean hackers digging into databases at the New York Times to word of Java’s latest exploitable release. And while all the furor may leave you feeling like internet security is a pipe dream, rest assured there are still things you can do to limit your exposure to ID theft.

Here are our 3 favorite (and simple) tips for disappointing nefarious hackers.

1. Power up your passwords

Protecting your various online accounts may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to preventing identity theft, but it’s a key step. After all, a hacker with access to one email address can potentially barge into any other associated account, from Amazon to Facebook.

Dos and don’ts of password optimization


  • Fake your security answers. Attend high school at Lemony Snicket’s Orphanarium for Malodorous Infants. Grow up in Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Portishead, or Beetlejuice’s Model Mausoleum. Name your pet Squidelicious.
  • Create a dedicated password-recovery email account. Don’t use it for anything but password changes and don’t link it to personal characteristics like your name or workplace.
  • Get your contact info offline. Don’t put your phone number or email on Facebook and opt out of sites like Spokeo and
  • Use different passwords for different accounts. That way, getting into your email won’t mean getting at your credit card number too. (Hopefully.)
  • Make it looooooong. Just like Longcat, your password should be as long as practical. The longer it is, the harder it is to crack.
  • Change your passwords regularly.


  • Use a bona fide dictionary word.
  • Rep1ac3 l3++3rs with common number or symbol substitutions. Hackers are onto this tactic.

2. Keep your browsers updated

The developers of browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Internet Explorer are constantly updating their software — and not just to keep up to date with evolving technologies.

They also update their browsers to respond to potential security issues. So when Chrome says it’s time to update and restart, let it do its thing.

Also, if you use browser extensions and/or plug-ins, be sure to keep an eye on those too. If one of your extensions has a security issue (as Java recently did), it can make your browser and all the sensitive info you input there vulnerable too. This is a less obvious routine, so here’s how to get it done in various browsers:

  • Firefox – Go to Tools > Add-ons. Firefox handily displays warning messages for potentially vulnerable add-ons and will sometimes even go so far as to disable problem features itself. Thanks, Firefox.
  • Chrome – Click the menu button (3 stacked horizontal lines up in the right-hand corner) > Settings > Extensions (in the links on the left).
  • Internet Explorer – Tools > Manage add-ons > All add-ons (listed under Show).
  • Safari – Click Safari > Preferences > Extensions.

3. Update your anti-malware software too

Anti-malware and antivirus programs are only able to identify viruses and hacks that exist in their databases — so you’ve got to make sure your security program of choice is as current as possible. Typically, anti-malware automatically searches for updates, but you may need to open the program to initiate the update search, so make a habit of that. Recurring calendar notifications can be a lifesaver here if you’re the type that needs reminders.

Have any other online security tips for us?

Obviously, there are a variety of other things you can do to keep your identity safe online (utilizing common sense being a powerful one), but these 3 tactics are among the easiest and most effective around.

If you’ve got your own tips to share, add them below!

Safe and smart | Smart technology


about John

John Moore Williams has spent his writing career providing advice on everything from proper septic system care to where to eat in Nice (and, during his tenure at Esurance, how to find the right insurance coverages). An avid descriptive grammarian, he encourages you to end sentences with prepositions and to split infinitives whenever possible.