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Science

17 tips to avoid getting hacked that you might have forgotten—or never even knew

A few lessons from IT professionals about securing your personal data.

identity theft, getting hacked, hackers, computer protection
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There are unsavory people interested in your information.

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Mozilla

In 2009, Scott McGready stumbled on a massive phishing scam targeting his company's email server.

Thousands of emails bombarded the company in a short period of time. They all came from the same source, pretending to be someone or something they weren't in order to lure people into clicking on shady links and giving up their personal data.

"While investigating it, I stumbled upon the phisher's database which had [the] personal data of thousands of people," McGready says. "I was surprised how little effort was required on the fraudster's part to acquire such a trove of information."


This discovery sparked McGready's interest in information security and teaching others how to protect themselves from fraud. Since then, this journey has taken him from the U.K.'s National Trading Standards department to the documentary series "Secrets of the Scammers" to his own company and beyond.

Here are just a few lessons from McGready — and some other IT professionals — about securing your personal data:

data hacking, browsing, protection, financial

Is your information protected online?

Stomchak/Wikimedia Commons

1. Know there is a LOT of data about you online.

"Having data readily available online means that things like phishing emails can be automatically tailored to targets without much effort," McGready says.

But what does "data" really mean in this case? Um. Er. Pretty much everything. Even if we don't realize it. Something as simple as your basic browsing habits and location history can actually reveal a lot about you. Even if your name's not attached to it, a savvy social hacker could still figure something out.

2. Be aware that your friends may expose info about you — even if you're not on social media.

"We tend to share every detail of our lives on social media because we feel obliged to by peer pressure — whether that be adding your birthday to your Facebook profile because the website keeps asking for it," McGready says. But it's worse when your friend tags you in that photo from high school with your school mascot in the background and — oops. There goes another security question.

social media, data leak, Facebook, friends

Things don't always go as planned with technology.

Photo by Elisa Ventur on Unsplash

3. Pay attention so you can mitigate the risks (though probably not completely avoid them).

McGready recommends keeping your social media profiles as private as possible and asking your friends and family to do the same. "Even those that intentionally aren't on social media may be easily findable by their friends or family that share the 'dinner table selfie.'"

4. It's better to be proactive than wait until you're compromised.

"We hear about data leaks almost every week, it seems," McGready says. "The general public are no longer asking 'if' their data is compromised, but rather 'when.'"

This might sound scary. But it's also a good reminder to stay sharp.

public, risk, education, accounts

Do you know everyone that's using your computer?

Image via Pixabay.

5. Check the Facebook apps and third-party services that might have access to your account.

"It's worth checking what data you share with specific companies and only giving out the bare minimum in case of a data breach in the future," McGready explains.

For example: Does Bejeweled Blitz really need permission to access everything you've ever put on Facebook, to post on your behalf, and to spam your friends and family? It's not just annoying — it puts you at risk if that information leaks.

6. Take some time to get rid of those old accounts.

A clever hacker might still be able to figure out something through your iwasdefinitelyacool15yearold@aol.com email address. "Many of us, myself included, also have a large number of 'dormant accounts' on websites that we no longer use," McGready says. "I'd fully recommend logging into these accounts and changing all the profile information before deleting the account."

science, history, websites, companies

It's important to know what accounts are open in your name.

Photo from Daderot/Wikimedia Commons.

7. Don't feel bad if it happens to you. Even IT professionals fall for it!

Georgia Bullen, technology projects director for New America's Open Technology Institute, recounts how she was hacked:

"My password wasn't secure enough and so someone had built a program that was logging into not-secure-enough accounts and then spamming."

What she felt at the time is all too familiar for anyone who's been hacked: "Embarrassed, confused, and then really worried that someone else was going to click on something from me."

8. Be smart, pay attention, and know what you're getting into with any website or service you sign up for.

This bears repeating because a little awareness can make a big difference.

security, passwords, service, defense

What type of security for your accounts do you have?

Photo by Marcello Casal Jr/ABr/Wikimedia Commons.

9. Have a solid P@$w0rds plan.

Passwords are the Achilles' heel of the modern world — but there's a trick.

"It's totally possible [for hackers] to take one password, see where you've re-used it, and then get access to those accounts as well. And that's where the bigger danger happens," explains Harlo Holmes from the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

That's why, in general, passwords should be different for every website or service used, and consist of three random words, interspersed with special characters; a DiceWare password like "correct horse battery staple" is a good place to start.

Password managers can help out by creating unique passwords for you. Which leads to...

10. Use a password manager.

Password managers can generate strong, random passwords for you. And they keep track of all of your different passwords so you don't need to memorize them yourself.

All you need to do is remember one super-secure master password in order to unlock every other possible password combination. That way, says Bullen, you can't even make the mistake of verbally giving your password away because you genuinely don't know it yourself! (Unless it's your master password, in which case, ya know, don't do that.)

11. Set up two-factor authentication (2FA) for added security.

Safety is good, but a back-up plan is even better. 2FA sends a code to a device on your person just to make sure that the person logging in is really you. Even if your password does get compromised, the hacker probably doesn't have access to your smartphone, too. (Probably.)

Mozilla's Amira Dhalla explains how it works:

12. Consider using a separate email address — with a separate strong password — for important accounts like banking.

That way, even if you do use the same password elsewhere, hackers will have a harder time getting in to your important accounts. (Make sure this secondary email account has two-factor authentication, too!)

13. Be sure to hover over links before you click them.

"Links may look legitimate, but upon hovering, they actually redirect to a completely different place," McGready says. (Don't believe me? See what happens when you click on www.upworthy.com/definitely-not-an-upworthy-page.)

14. Always double-check the URL in the address bar. (But even that's not always safe.)

Ever notice that green padlock in your browser bar? It's a good sign! ... except when it's not. As McGready explains, "While it's true that this means your data is encrypted between your computer and the website itself, it doesn't legitimize the website."

routers, world wide web, computers, Wi-Fi

Using default passwords on the computer router can leave you vulnerable..

Photo by Michael Geiger on Unsplash

15. Secure your router.

It may seem harmless to use the default password for your router, but that can actually leave you vulnerable to hackers (there are even websites that can be used to find out different routers' default settings). And someone accessing your router can access pretty much your entire home network. So it's worth taking that small extra step of setting up a strong user name and password.

16. Be wary: These days, the internet is in everything from lightbulbs to baby diapers. Which is super cool! And bad.

McGready sees "the internet of things," or IoT, as the biggest online threat on the horizon. Even if you have worried about Amazon spying on you, you probably didn't consider who else could be spying on you through a vulnerable Wi-Fi or Bluetooth system built into your smart home. "The issue comes when these wireless chips are integrated by default on all products, whether the customer wants them or not," McGready explains.

17. Exercise a little extra caution.

It all boils down to the fact that humans are too trusting.

We trust that our friends aren't going to expose our address over Twitter. We trust that some disgruntled Angry Birds employee won't hijack our linked Facebook page because we didn't pay attention to permissions. We trust the green padlock in the browser bar that keeps our credit cards secure, even if the website taking that information wants to use it for a shady purpose.

Simply put, we trust that the internet is mostly good and that people are, too.

It's hard to solve a problem you can't see — which is why McGready is so passionate about teaching online safety.

"Show the public exactly what is possible and what they should be watching out for," McGready says. "It's one thing to tell someone that a scammer can send a text which appears to be from a legitimate company or a known person; it's another thing entirely to send a text to that person's phone which comes from 'Mum.'"

There's no "one weird trick" to protect us from the dangers of technology. But we can do our due diligence — as long as we know where to start.

This article originally appeared on 06.19.17

True

Music’s biggest night took place Sunday, February 4 with the 66th Annual GRAMMY Awards. Now, fans have the opportunity to take home a piece of the famed event.

Longtime GRAMMY Awards partner Mastercard is using this year’s campaign to shine a light on the environment and the Priceless Planet Coalition (PPC), a forest restoration program with the goal of restoring 100 million trees. Music fans are 1.5 times more likely to take action to help the environment, making the GRAMMY Awards the perfect opportunity to raise awareness.

“Through our GRAMMY Awards campaign, we’ve created an opportunity for our brand, our partners and consumers to come together over shared values, to participate during a moment when we can celebrate our passion for music and our commitment to make meaningful investments to preserve the environment,” says Rustom Dastoor, Executive Vice President of Marketing and Communications, North America at Mastercard.

The campaign kicked off with an inspired self-guided multi-sensory tour at the GRAMMY House presented by Mastercard, where people journeyed through their passion of music and educational experience about Mastercard’s longstanding commitment to tree restoration. Then, this year’s most-nominated GRAMMY artist and a passionate voice for the environment, SZA, led the charge with the debut performance of her new song, Saturn.

Mastercard’s partners are also joining the mission by encouraging people all over the country to participate; Lyft and Sirius XM are both offering ways for consumers to get involved in the Priceless Planet Coalition. To learn more about how you can support these efforts, visit mastercard.com/forceofnature.

While fashion is always a highlight of any GRAMMY Awards event, SZA’s outfit worn during her performance of Saturn was designed to make a statement; made of tree seeds to help spread awareness. Fans can even comment ‘🌱’ and tag a friend on Mastercard’s designated post of SZA’s GRAMMY House performance for a chance to win a tree seed from the performance outfit*.

“SZA has a personal passion for sustainability – not just in forest restoration but in the clothes she wears and the platforms and partners she aligns herself with. It was important to us to partner with someone who is not only showing up big at the GRAMMY Awards – as the most GRAMMY-nominated artist this year – but also showing up big for the environment,” says Dastoor.

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How often do you change your sheets?

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According to a survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by Mattress Advisor, the average time between sheet changings or washings in the U.S. is 24 days—or every 3 1/2 weeks, approximately. The same survey revealed that 35 days is the average interval at which unwashed sheets are "gross."

Some of you are cringing at those stats while others are thinking, "That sounds about right." But how often should you wash your sheets, according to experts?

Hint: It's a lot more frequent than 24 days.

While there is no definitive number of days or weeks, most experts recommend swapping out used sheets for clean ones every week or two.

Dermatologist Alok Vij, MD told Cleveland Clinic that people should wash their sheets at least every two weeks, but probably more often if you have pets, live in a hot climate, sweat a lot, are recovering from illness, have allergies or asthma or if you sleep naked.

We shed dead skin all the time, and friction helps those dead skin cells slough off, so imagine what's happening every time you roll over and your skin rubs on the sheets. It's normal to sweat in your sleep, too, so that's also getting on your sheets. And then there's dander and dust mites and dirt that we carry around on us just from living in the world, all combining to make for pretty dirty sheets in a fairly short period of time, even if they look "clean."

Maybe if you shower before bed and always wear clean pajamas you could get by with a two-week sheet swap cycle, but weekly sheet cleaning seems to be the general consensus among the experts. The New York Times consulted five books about laundry and cleaning habits, and once a week was what they all recommend.

Sorry, once-a-monthers. You may want to step up your sheet game a bit.

What about the rest of your bedding? Blankets and comforters and whatnot?

Sleep.com recommends washing your duvet cover once a week, but this depends on whether you use a top sheet. Somewhere between the Gen X and Millennial eras, young folks stopped being about the top sheet life, just using their duvet with no top sheet. If that's you, wash that baby once a week. If you do use a top sheet, you can go a couple weeks longer on the duvet cover.

For blankets and comforters and duvet inserts, Sleep.com says every 3 months. And for decorative blankets and quilts that you don't really use, once a year washing will suffice.

What about pillows? Pillowcases should go in with the weekly sheet washing, but pillows themselves should be washed every 3 to 6 months. Washing pillows can be a pain, and if you don't do it right, you can end up with a lumpy pillow, but it's a good idea because between your sweat, saliva and skin cells, pillows can start harboring bacteria.

Finally, how about the mattress itself? Home influencers on TikTok can often be seen stripping their beds, sprinkling their mattress with baking soda, brushing it into the mattress fibers and then vacuuming it all out. Architectural Digest says the longer you leave baking soda on the mattress, the better—at least a few hours, but preferably overnight. Some people add a few drops of essential oil to the baking soda for some extra yummy smell.

If that all sounds like way too much work, maybe just start with the sheets. Pick a day of the week and make it your sheet washing day. You might find that climbing into a clean, fresh set of sheets more often is a nice way to feel pampered without a whole lot of effort.

Super Bowl ad showing real-life NFL 'Taylor Swift effect' is bringing people to tears

The daddy-daughter storyline is a tearjerker, without saying a word.

One dad and daughter share their new football bond.

Dads and daughters often have a unique bond, which can sometimes hit a rocky spot as adolescence approaches. It's not that the love isn't there, but swift changes in development can leave them both reeling and struggling to connect the way they used to.

In an unexpected turn of events, many fathers are finding themselves bonding over football with their previously uninterested daughters recently. Taylor Swift, pop star beloved by millions of teens and tweens, started dating Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce near the beginning of the NFL season, and as their relationship grew, so did Swifties' interest in football. The phenomenon has been dubbed the "Taylor Swift effect."

Is a singer dating a football player a silly reason to start watching football? Maybe. Has it been a boon for many a daddy-daughter relationships? Apparently so. And skincare company Cetaphil is highlighting one real-life "Taylor Swift effect" example with their tear-jerking Super Bowl ad.

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A boy told his teacher she can't understand him because she's white. Her response is on point.

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Photo by John Pike. Used with permission.

Emily E. Smith is no ordinary teacher.



Fifth-grade teacher Emily E. Smith is not your ordinary teacher.

She founded The Hive Society — a classroom that's all about inspiring children to learn more about their world ... and themselves — by interacting with literature and current events. Students watch TED talks, read Rolling Stone, and analyze infographics. She even has a long-distance running club to encourage students to take care of their minds and bodies.

Smith is such an awesome teacher, in fact, that she recently received the 2015 Donald H. Graves Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Writing.

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Mom causes debate after sharing the surprising 'gift' she gives for every kid's party

Sarah Clarke swears that her idea saves on "mental load." But not everyone thinks it's very considerate.

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Having kids means not only prepping and planning their own birthday party, but making sure you don’t show up empty-handed to the plethora of other kid’s parties.

In a now-viral Instagram post, UK-based mom Sarah Clarke explains her trick that she does for every kids party to “save on mental load.” Though Clarke swears by it, not everyone agrees.

“I get the same thing every time, no matter how old they are, no matter if they’re a boy or a girl,” Clarke said in the clip, clarifying that the gift is not a traditional present, but a gift certificate to a local coffee shop, where the kid can have a “hot chocolate or cake” with their parents.

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LeVar Burton gives cheeky 'Reading Rainbow' segment for banned books

The segment, shown on "Jimmy Kimmel Live," featured banned titles like "Charlottes Web" and "Harriet the Spy."

Super Festivals/Wikipedia, Wikipedia

You've never seen a "Reading Rainbow" episode quite like this

“Reading Rainbow” might have had its last episode in 2006, but LeVar Burton hasn’t stopped being a book advocate.

The actor and beloved host has spoken out against the unprecedented levels of books banned in schools throughout the country—acting as executive producer do the 2023 documentary “The Right to Read,” and has partnered with the nonprofit MoveOn.org to create a limited-edition T-shirt that reads “LeVar Burton Says Read Banned Books.”

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From 1940 to 1945, an estimated 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the largest complex of Nazi concentration camps. More than four out of five of those people—at least 1.1 million people—were murdered there.

On January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the final prisoners from these camps—7,000 people, most of whom were sick or dying. Those of us with a decent public education are familiar with at least a few names of Nazi extermination facilities—Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen—but these are merely a few of the thousands (yes, thousands) of concentration camps, sub camps, and ghettos spread across Europe where Jews and other targets of Hitler's regime were persecuted, tortured, and killed by the millions.

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