By Kelli Uhrich,

Data breaches, malware, phishing scams and other cybersecurity threats are on the rise, and tech companies are struggling to keep up. Big-name companies such as Yahoo, Target, LinkedIn, Wendy’s, Home Depot, Weebly and others, have all fallen victim to cyberattacks.

It’s enough to make you feel like protecting your information is practically impossible. But that’s the wrong way to look at it. As the services we use on a daily basis become larger targets for hackers, that means it’s even more critical that we all take the necessary steps to protect our private data. But where do you start? Follow these five steps if you want to instantly boost your safety online.

1. Passwords, passwords, passwords

First and foremost, let’s talk about passwords. The passwords you use can either act as your first line of defense against hackers, or it can be the open window that lets them slip through.

Obviously, you want to have the type of passwords that keep snoops out of all your accounts – and adding a few special characters just isn’t going to cut it.

To make things simple, we’ve put together a checklist that will help:

  • Create unique, complex passwords that aren’t hard to remember: The average six-character, lower-cased password takes a hacker around 10 minutes to crack. That’s not very long, especially when you consider that adding around four more characters and a few numbers could extend that time by about 45,000 years. The good news is, you don’t need a password that looks like a foreign alphabet to get the security you need. Use these tricks to create a password built for online security.
  • Use a different password for EVERY account: One of the most common password mistakes people make is using the same password for multiple accounts. No matter how small or insignificant an account may seem, most ask for details like your date of birth, email address and even your phone number. The list of accounts you have, and the passwords associated with them, may seem endless. Use the tip in bullet three to easily keep track of every online login you have.
  • Don’t write your passwords down: Depending on how many online accounts you have, it may be difficult to keep track of all your passwords – especially if you’re following the