Think Twice Before You Check Email on Free Wi-Fi

Four tips to stay off Symantec's electronic crime report next year.

Ah, America, the land where we often have more money than brains and develop expansive, revolutionary technology faster than we can keep up socially. Case in point: Over the past year, we as a nation have lost nearly $21 billion to electronic crime of some variety, according to Symantec’s newest cybercrime report. Some 71 million American adults, roughly 23 percent of the population, have fallen victim to online swindles, each paying about $290 in damages on average. So I’ve compiled some tips to help save some American face on the interwebz. Remember, just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you:

1. Distrust Open Wireless Networks
I know, a free and open wi-fi connection while out and about is a digital godsend–especially if you’re trying to avoid awkward social situations. I’ll admit to that, but let’s be clear: You should never access personal information or accounts on open networks. It would appear, however, that most Americans are unaware of that fact. About 44 percent of those polled said they access banking, social media, shopping and email sites on free, open wi-fi without much concern at all. Maybe these folks don’t know, but it’s basically child’s play to eavesdrop on public wireless traffic. In fact, any info you put out while connected is readily available to whoever wants it. Ditto for all the files on your computer if you have network file sharing turned on. Pro-tip: If a site’s URL doesn’t read “HTTPS” at the beginning, it’s definitely not a secure site and your information (including passwords) will be easily snagged by interested parties. Wait till you get home; buying that life-size Bo Obama cutout can wait.

2. Lock Down Your Social Media Game
This really should go without saying (because, you know, you’re an adult), but not everyone on the Internet is your friend. Around 15 percent of those polled have had their social networking accounts infiltrated by malicious hackers or bots, and one in 10 have fallen victim to social media scams via fake or virus-ridden links on the ol’ FB. We’ve all seen the “Dad walks in on daughter!” and “See who viewed your profile!” virus scams before, but unfortunately, it would seem that many of us can’t tell the difference between a real offer and a surreptitious one. These phishing attacks aren’t the only problem, though; basic security is a concern, too. Only about one-sixth of respondents to the Symantec poll said they knew about security settings on social sites at all, and even then only half said they control what info people can see on their profiles. That’s like getting changed with the curtains open every day: revealing, and not to anyone who should see, anyway. Just lock it up.

3. Beware of Mobile Malware
The smart phone arena is officially the wild west of the cybercrime world. In the past year alone, cases of mobile threats have doubled–even the McAfee Threats Report found that the number cell-focused viruses has increased by 600 percent to more than 13, 000 nasty programs total. And that’s not even considering having your phone lost or stolen, which can be solved with a passcode and a “Find My iPhone”-type app. The malware issue, however, is more complicated. Most affected users are targeted via indiscriminate texts with an embedded link, which, stupidly, they click on, only to infect their device with some ruinous problem. To combat mobile trouble from cyber criminals, start by not tapping random links from random phone numbers (also, don’t take candy from strangers). Failing that, though, you could also download an antivirus app for some extra insurance, depending on your phone. Above all else, just don’t keep sensitive data–passwords, banking info, nudie pics–on your phone at all. Why? Just ask Olivia Munn or Christina Hendricks.

4. Get an Education in Password Maintenance
The simplest aspect of personal security online, maybe not surprisingly, is also the most often overlooked. Around 40 percent of those polled don’t use complex passwords or regularly change their login credentials. Combine that with the fact that many users use the same password across multiple logins, and you can see where this one is heading. At least change the password to your email account regularly; that’s where most of your personal info–bank statements, other passwords, photos, and so on–ends up at some point. As far as good password practices go, always try to make your pass at least eight characters long, with upper and lower case letters mixed in with numbers and special characters. Of course, remembering a password with all those catches in it can be tough alone, so just come up with a matching phrase to make your new password into an acronym. And, as with lockers in high school, never share your password with anyone else. You never know when they might turn on you.