A guide to protecting yourself from hackers and viruses

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You probably lock your front door at night to keep out anyone who doesn’t belong. In the meantime, your digital doors could be wide open — and hackers and scammers are quickly making themselves at home.

Cybercrime has exploded during the pandemic as ransomware besieges the public and private sectors and individuals struggle to figure out which emails are genuine and which are trying to steal their passwords. People reported losing $770 million to social media scams in 2021, says the Federal Trade Commission, while spam-blocking company RoboKiller estimates people lost $10 billion to text message scams last year.

These threats are getting worse as more life takes place online, cybersecurity experts say. And despite our stereotypical image of being a victim of online fraud, young people are no safer than their older friends and family members, according to the National Cybersecurity Alliance’s 2021 Cybersecurity Behaviors and Attitudes Report. Twenty percent of us have been victims of identity theft, with around a quarter of Gen Z and Millennials reporting that their identity has been stolen at some point. They are also more likely to lose money to phishing attempts or personal information in leaks, the report said.

All this badness is compounded by the fact that no one explains to us normal, non-technical people where these risks come from and how to prevent them. How do we update our home internet routers so we know the software is secure? How do we know which websites are safe to enter our credit card numbers or other sensitive information? How do we secure our data or remember hard-to-guess passwords and are public WiFi networks really bad?

Instead of crossing our fingers and hoping that we (and our data) don’t end up in the wrong digital place at the wrong time, we can take back some control of our cybersecurity and prepare for a safer online life.

The Washington Post Helpdesk has compiled the simplest and most effective tips for protecting your identity, money and information online. Cybercrime isn’t widespread, but adopting a few new habits can protect you from hacks, fraud, and theft. Call it our digital hygiene checklist. Take a few minutes to click through.

We’ll be constantly updating this page with new information, so keep checking back. Think we missed an important topic you’d like to learn more about? Let us know about the Helpdesk form or email [email protected]

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