Hackers rely on the average person's naivety to gain access to sensitive financial and personal information. You can avoid becoming a statistic by using several preventative measures to stop a hacker’s attack -- such as activating a firewall on your computer, connecting to the Internet securely and installing anti-virus software. Although no single method is completely hacker-proof, using a combination of methods can minimize your risk. In addition, you can protect yourself by being vigilant with your sensitive offline information, for example, by destroying your financial statements or other documents.
Protect Your Internet-Connected Devices
Your device’s operating system, programs, browsers and even email clients all have potential vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to access your information. If applicable, activate your device’s native anti-virus program and firewall -- for example, the Windows Defender program in Windows 8.1 -- to prevent attacks and eliminate harmful software. If your device does not have a native anti-virus protection program, there are several free non-native solutions available -- such as AVG Anti-Virus Free, Avast and Avira Free Antivirus (see Resources). After installing or activating a security program, you need to keep the software updated so that it remains effective against new attacks. In addition, apply updates to your operating system and other programs as they become available to patch any potential security vulnerabilities.
Connect to the Internet Safely
Using a strong alphanumeric password and enabling two-step verification -- a security tool that requires both a password and phone verification to access an online account -- are two methods that can prevent hackers from accessing your online accounts. However, you also need to stop hackers from viewing your information by securing your Wi-Fi network. Without security and encryption -- for example, Wi-Fi Protected Access -- anyone with a wireless device can use your network for nefarious activity, view the information being transferred or access your computer files. Changing your router’s default password and your wireless network’s default name -- which is called the service set identifier -- can add an extra layer of protection. If you must use a public or unsecured network, use a virtual private network service to encrypt your traffic or don’t perform sensitive operations such as purchasing items with your credit card or signing in to an account.
Take Offline Precautions
Although the term "hacker" is associated with online activities, it is also possible to have your personal information compromised through offline methods. Be wary of shoulder surfers -- a person who casually observes another person with the objective of stealing information -- when you are in a public setting. Shred your sensitive papers -- for example, your credit card and bank statements -- before you trash them to make it difficult for anyone to steal your information. You can also protect your credit card information by observing the actions of retail store clerks. If you see a clerk swiping your card on two different machines, he is probably stealing your information by storing it on the second device.