Many people have found themselves in the following scenario: You log on to the web from your computer, surf a few sites, log in to check your Facebook or bank account, then close your browser when you’re done surfing. Notice the mistake made? You didn’t log out of your accounts. Whether because it’s easy to forget or because they don’t realize how important this simple step is, many people do not log out of their accounts when they are done using them. This is a serious security mistake.
If you are not logging out of every account each time you use it, you are putting yourself at risk, gambling your online reputation, money, and more. This is because leaving yourself logged in to a social network, bank account, or anything that requires a username/password leaves your account vulnerable to infiltration by hackers. Basically, not logging out is the equivalent of leaving your car unlocked or your wallet unattended in public.
Cybercriminals love to hack into accounts to steal information, including usernames, passwords, and personal information like credit card numbers and addresses. This type of information can be used for identity theft or to commit other types of cyber crime.
Not logging out is extremely dangerous, especially if you regularly access your accounts on public networks or computers. A hacker may be sitting in the very café you are using for its free Wi-Fi, and while you are logged in to your bank account, he may be exploiting network vulnerabilities to steal your account numbers. Similarly, a stranger could come across your active personal email account on a computer in your campus library and disseminate private and potentially embarrassing content around campus. These types of actions can ultimately cause you financial hardship and personal embarrassment, all because you simply didn’t click the log out button.
In some cases, not logging out can even cost you your livelihood. Graphic designer David Airey, who owned a website domain for his business, found out the hard way. He left his email account active while searching the web, then unknowingly visited a malware-infected website. The thieves behind the fraudulent site gained access to his email account and personal information, secretly transferred ownership of his web domain to their names, and Airey sadly woke up to find his business website was no longer owned by him.
Luckily, your story doesn’t have to end up like that. Simply logging out greatly reduces your chances of being exploited by cybercriminals. Whether at home, in public, on your smartphone, or any device that you can access online accounts on, be vigilant.
The good news is that major websites are well aware of the dangers of staying logged in, and are therefore timed to automatically log you out after an idle period. However, these still leave you vulnerable in the few minutes it takes to log out. Knowing this, many accounts offer remote log-out options. (Both Gmail and Facebook allow you to remotely close any active sessions.)
Still, it’s better to avoid taking any risks by always exiting accounts properly. In the end, it’s up to you to choose: log out or lose.