9 Ways To Prevent Identity Theft By Computer Hackers

In this digital age, where almost the entire human knowledge is stored online, some of the most valuable information you possess is your own identity. The term refers to information that enables an identity thief to impersonate their victim to access their bank account, to obtain and abuse a credit card in their victim’s name, or to tap into other resources.
Hackers have found many ways to come by this information, for example cracking email account passwords, introducing keyloggers that record every keystroke made on a computer, or intercepting the Internet traffic of their victim and recording the transmitted information. Likewise, there are a multitude of steps you can take to protect yourself and your personal information from these attacks.

1. Use A Firewall

Hackers who do not have direct access to your computer can get into your system through your Internet connection. One way to get in is via an open network port. A firewall controls all traffic that passes through your network ports, whether it’s coming in or going out. The software acts like a gatekeeper and allows you to decide which programs get to send and receive information.
Windows comes with a basic firewall. In Windows 7 you can access the settings of your firewall under > Start > Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall. A software that can help you manage your firewall is Windows 7 Firewall Control.

2. Secure Your Network

A person who has access to your network can intercept your network traffic and possibly gain access to sensitive data. Hence, it is imperative to change the default login information of your router and set a network password for your local WiFi.

3. Use Anti-Malware Software

Possibly the easiest way for a hacker to sneak into your system is by using malicious software installations authorized or performed by the naive user. In some cases, the user doesn’t even need to authorize anything, as the spyware auto-runs and installs itself  as soon as the user opens a file or allows a script to run off a website. Anti-malware software can protect your data by detecting malicious activity on your computer and preventing an infection.

4. Work With A Standard Or Limited User Account

Most people prefer to work with the Administrator account because it seems more convenient. You can easily install a program without having to switch users or run an installation file with Administrator rights. Well, guess how many hackers or malicious programs like that!
Windows Vista and Windows 7 have made the system more secure by requiring a confirmation or Administrator login information when programs attempt to make changes to the system. If you are still using Windows XP, however, be sure to make your default account a non-Admin account. You can still run processes as Administrator from within this account, provided you know the login information.
Also, do set a password for the default Administrator account. Often, the Administrator account has no password. This is another open door into your system, especially if someone had direct access to your computer, so you better lock it.

5. Use Strong Passwords & Change Them Often

The only thing you can do to protect online accounts, such as your webmail or online banking, is to choose strong passwords, a different one for each and every account, and then change your passwords often. This is hard, but for accounts that contain sensitive information, such as personal data or credit card numbers, it is incredibly important.

6. Encrypt Sensitive Data

When storing sensitive data on your hard drive or on an external storage device, encrypt it. This way it is hard to access, even if a hacker does gain access to your computer and manages to copy data. An excellent free open source tool to encrypt data is TrueCrypt.

7. Use Secure Connections For Sending Sensitive Data

The Internet is just too convenient not to be used. It’s fun and easy to sign up for new accounts, participate in contests, shop from your couch, and plan your vacation. Every time you use such a service, you reveal a bit of personal information: your name, address, personal interests, banking details, and when you will be away from home.  This information is highly valuable!
To protect your personal information when using online services, be sure that data is exclusively submitted via an encrypted secure connections (SSL/TLS protocol). You are dealing with a secure connection when the URL in your browser starts with https://instead of http://. Presently, you can set Facebook, Gmail and Twitter to constantly connect through HTTPS, which increases the security of exchanging information through these sites.

8. Keep Operating System & Software Updated

Most programs have bugs and the worst of them are security holes. To fix bugs, software developers provide patches and software updates. Updating your operating system, your drivers, and all installed software thus is not a question of accessing new features, it’s a matter of keeping your system safe and functional.

9. Wipe and Overwrite Storage Devices Before Discarding

Before you dispose of hardware that previously stored personal information, for example hard drives, USB flash drives, memory cards, or DVDs, either physically destroy the item or overwrite the entire drive. Deleting files or formatting a drive alone is not sufficient. Hackers will be able to restore the information. You must overwrite the storage space with random data.
  • Have you ever had a case of identity theft? How did the hackers gain access to your data?