Heartbleed 101: How To Protect Your Digital Identity

April 27, 2014  |  

It’s safe to say, you’re information isn’t 100 percent safe online. I mean, is it ever? I’m not trying to scare you, but it’s true.

However, there are numerous ways to ensure your digital presence, communication and information stays as safe as possible. Small things can help like making sure you update your favorite apps; changing your password when banking online; and updating your software to the latest version. Keeping one’s digital identity safe has always been critical, but it became a priority when the Heartbleed bug surfaced earlier this month.

Without getting too granular, Heartbleed is a vulnerability found in network software called OpenSSL, which is an open-source set of libraries for encrypting online services. It ultimately means usernames, passwords, email addresses, instant messages and sensitive personal data are at risk of being accessed by hackers and cybercriminals. Big name sites such as Yahoo, OKCupid and Airbnb were all affected by the Heartbleed bug.

“Heartbleed undermines the encryption process on secure websites, email, instant messaging and likely a variety of other programs and applications,” officials said in a U.S. Department of Defense statement, “potentially putting users’ sensitive personal data — such as usernames, passwords and credit card information — at risk of being intercepted by hackers. Hackers who intercept that information, they added, could then use it to access users’ personal accounts.”

Although reports about Heartbleed emerged at the beginning of this month, security researchers claim the issue may have existed for nearly two years. With concern over Heartbleed reaching fever pitch, here are a few simple ways to protect yourself against Heartbleed:

See whether or not a website you use has been affected by Heartbleed.

Popular tech news sites such as Mashable and CNET released lists on affected sites. Password manager site LastPass also published a Heartbleed checker, so you can type in any site and see if its vulnerable. Take a look!

Find out if everything you use to connect online has been updated or fixed.

Hold off on logging into affected sites and changing the password unless the site has confirmed that a patch is in place to protect users from the vulnerability. If the Heartbleed patch is not in place on the site and you change the password, it’s pretty much useless. In fact, you might be handing over the new password to a hacker.

Change your passwords

If the coast is clear, proceed with changing your passwords for major accounts, including banking, social media logins, and email. Again, make sure you’ve got the green light before changing your password.

Keep an eye out for suspicious activity

While many sites are cleaning up the affects of Heartbleed, it’s still a good idea to make sure you’re monitoring the activity on your sensitive online accounts.

Are you concerned about Heartbleed? Let us know how you’re dealing with the current Internet security fiasco in the comments section below.

Based in New York City, Janel Martinez is a multimedia journalist who covers technology and entrepreneurship and the founder of“Ain’t I Latina?” an online destination geared toward Afro-Latinas. 

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