12 Everyday Things That Pose Huge Security Risks

Unfortunately, in today's super-connected world, your personal information is at a higher risk than ever. But just tweaking some of your simple habits can make you less likely to be scammed or even robbed.

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Home security system sticker on door
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Home security signs

Home security signs are a strange beast. In a perfect world, they’d do exactly what they’re supposed to do—make burglars think twice before picking your house to rob. And sometimes they do, especially when it’s a less experienced, more spur-of-the-moment criminal. But not every burglar is like that. “Some smart criminals know how to tamper with and disarm security systems, so telling them the exact company [you have] can actually make them more informed,” warns Gabe Turner, Director of Content at Security.org. A potential solution he offers is to get a sign—but for a system other than the one you have.

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Free charging station in airport.
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Charging your devices at charging stations

“Recently, charging stations have expanded more and more into the public sphere,” Turner told Reader’s Digest. And that’s not surprising—people constantly have their phones and other devices on them and are happy to have a convenient spot to charge them up. What is surprising, though, is the security risk these public stations can pose. “Many people don’t know that when you connect your phone to a USB port, not only are you charging your phone but you’re also transferring data, which transmits over a USB port,” Turner says. So beware—when you’re plugging your phone into one of those stations, there’s really no way to know who can then see the information on it.

For the same reason, make sure you never charge your phone in a rental car.

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Woman using phone in hammock
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Public WiFi networks

Public WiFi is very convenient, especially while travelling. But the convenience of hopping on a Wifi network wherever you are does come with a price. “Using public WiFi is a great way to save on your data plan when out and about, but it’s far from secure,” explains Alec Ogden, marketing executive and cybersecurity expert at Bob’s Business. “Unlike your network at home, public WiFi is unsecured and anyone with the right know-how can snoop on your activity.” You don’t need to swear off public WiFi completely, but be mindful of what you’re doing on it (don’t share any personal information, like a banking number or a social insurance number) and consider downloading a VPN (Virtual Private Network), which boosts your online privacy.

Find out 14 things you should never do when using public WiFi.

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voice controlled smart speaker
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Smart home devices

Amazon Alexa and her smart-device friends are all the rage right now. With just a word, you can play music, turn your lights on and off, and Google any question. But there are cons in addition to the pros, and they have to do with security. “Consumers are often entirely unaware of how much their smart devices know about them, or the inherent privacy and security risks,” says Chris Morales, Head of Security Analytics at Vectra. “Smart speaker hub devices like Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Home Hub are always listening to identify the codeword that will activate them.” It might sound like something out of a horror story, an artificial intelligence device that’s “always listening,” but the truth of the matter is that “it has become common practice for smart home devices to record data about their [users]…and transmit it for analysis.”

Find out exactly when you should not accept cookies on a website.

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apps on phone

Using lots of apps

Apps are another thing that are ingrained in our daily lives as digital consumers—that can pose a security risk. And when you think about it, it does make sense. Think about how often you just automatically click the permissions request, allowing app after app access to your camera, your contacts, and more. The apps that have that information might be sharing it with third parties, so you might want to take a closer look at that permission information to see what information they’re getting and what they’re doing with it. The greater the number of apps that have your information, the more vulnerable that information could be in the event of a data breach, or just in general. “The more apps you use, the greater the potential attack surface on your mobile device,” warns Ken Underhill, Master Instructor at Cybrary. “Only download apps from reputable sources and still be wary of any app requesting more information than it actually needs to function.”

Find out the password mistakes hackers hope you’ll make.

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CCTV security camera for residence or store protection

Using security cameras

It’s another technological safety measure that has a dark side. They’re meant to keep you safe, but unfortunately, you may not be the only one who’s watching them. “Connected security cameras, baby monitors, doorbells, and countless other products have been discovered that contain vulnerabilities that could allow hackers to take over those devices to monitor your home,” says Ray Walsh, a digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy.com. “Under the worst circumstances, hackers could use the devices you use to secure your home to ascertain when it is best to burgle you.” You can protect yourself by making sure the devices you purchase come from reputable manufacturers and make sure they’re as up-to-date as possible and are protected by a strong password.

Here’s how to outsmart any burglar.

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Reusing passwords

Speaking of strong passwords, there’s a good chance your passwords are not nearly secure enough—and it’s costing you. “Bad password habits are behind a huge proportion of security threats online,” Ogden says. And it’s not just weak, hackable passwords; we’re willing to bet you use the same one or two passwords, with little to no variation, over and over again for every site you log into. “Needless to say, that’s a mistake,” Ogden warns. “A single breach on any website you’ve ever used could reveal the login details for every other website, revealing information like bank details along the way.”

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Male hand holding computer mouse with laptop keyboard in the background
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Clicking on email links

If you’re generally concerned about online security, this is probably a tip you’ve come across before, but it’s worth reinforcing. One of the most common ways hackers acquire your information is by sending you an email, often from what looks like a legitimate, trusted sender—a delightful technique called phishing. The email contains a link that takes you to a dangerous website that can give you a virus, or asks for your login information (which it then uses to hack you). For this reason, be careful about clicking on any link from an email that looks a little “off.”

“Do not click on links you receive from strangers,” suggests Miguel A. Suro, a Miami attorney and lifestyle journalist at The Rich Miser. And it’s not just strangers; the email could even be coming from a friend or family member, rather than a business, but they themselves could’ve been hacked. “Also, beware of links (from any source) that look suspicious, point to unknown websites, or have seemingly random letters or numbers in them,” Suro continues. Even if the email appears to be legitimate, you can take precautions like holding your mouse over the link to see where it’s actually taking you to.

Brush up on the latest online scams (and how to avoid them).

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Devices with blank screens on wooden background, top view. Mock up for design
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Not wiping old devices

When you switch out one phone for a new one, it’s probably out of sight, out of mind for the old one. But according to Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate at Comparitech, “we’ve found [that] many used devices sold on marketplaces like eBay still contain a wealth of private information from previous owners.” His advice to prevent your info from falling into the wrong hands? “When you sell or discard an old or broken device, be sure to thoroughly wipe it or destroy it.”

Discover the 20 cybersecurity secrets hackers don’t want you to know.

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Password mistakes - happy young man using laptop
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Using an outdated web browser

It’s frustrating to constantly (or so it might seem) be “updating” your Internet browsers to the latest version, but there are risks to not doing so (in addition to just having slower, less current Internet). “Browsing the Internet is something everyone does on a daily basis. However, doing so with an out-of-date browser could put you in a dangerous position,” explains Josh Tomkiel, Threat & Vulnerability Assessment Manager of Schellman & Company. The same goes for security software, which usually comes out to combat, or as a response to, hacks or breaches.

Find out how to prevent identity theft in five simple steps.

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Diversity People Connection Digital Devices Browsing Concept

Over-sharing on social media

Divulging your entire life story on Facebook or Instagram isn’t just annoying for those who follow you. It can also hold some potential dangers, says Ogden. “The countless personal details we upload on a daily basis make our profiles ripe for identity theft,” he told Reader’s Digest. Casual details floating around on your profile, even ones that might seem innocuous, are often the answers to “forgot-my-password” security questions. And, of course, those oh-so-likable vacation photos are a double-edged sword, since they do reveal to your followers that you’re not home. “Protect yourself by not befriending anyone you don’t know, making your profiles viewable only to friends, and keeping personal details off of your profiles,” Ogden recommends.

Here’s why you need to stop commenting on those viral Facebook memes.

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Man watching big screen TV
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Having expensive tech in a prominent place in your home

If you have a very valuable tech product, you might want to be mindful of where in your home you arrange it. “Parking the shiny new big screen in front of a window is an advertisement for less-than-desirable window shoppers,” advises Allan Buxton, Lead Forensics Examiner at SecureForensics. “You may not care if your neighbours know that you binged a full season of Friends, but the bright, shiny display is easily spotted from the sidewalk and…can prompt thieves to take a closer look at the rest of your home.”

Next, find out the most sought-after items on every burglar’s hit list.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest