Make the Internet a safer place #3

The annual Safer Internet Day was held on 7 February this year, highlighting the problems and potential dangers of using the Internet, and advising what to do to protect yourself, your family and your personal information. Safer Internet Day is an initiative of the EU SafeBorders project and since 2004 has expanded across the globe, bringing together businesses, communities, educational institutions and organisations from more than 200 countries.

Technology has evolved dramatically in the past two decades, becoming an integral part of our daily lives and making online safety awareness even more important. According to cybersecurity company Kaspersky, “careless Internet habits have left others exposed to scams, identity theft and physical harm at the hands of people they met online. With more users accessing the Internet through mobile devices, these risks are changing and growing quickly. Even though apps loom larger in most people’s daily online interactions than traditional websites do, that does not mean that the basic Internet safety rules have changed. Hackers are still on the lookout for personal information they can use to access your credit card and bank information.”

Unsafe online ‘surfing’ and careless use of social media can lead to other threats, from embarrassing personal comments or images that, once online, are nearly impossible to erase, to getting mixed up with people you’d rather have nothing to do with. It is easy to forget how revealing information about your holiday plans can make you vulnerable to criminals who will know your home is empty and take advantage of your absence to break in.

Here are the Top 10 Internet safety rules to help you avoid getting into trouble online (and offline).

1. Ensure that your Internet connection is secure

Always use a secure VPN (virtual private network) to connect to the Internet. This will enable you to have a secure connection between your device and an Internet server so no one can access the data that you’re exchanging. If you go online using a public Wi-Fi connection, you have no direct control over its security. Rather wait for a better time, when back at your desk or home, before providing sensitive information such as your bank account access details. Be aware that your home Wi-Fi network is also vulnerable to hacking – make sure you have a hard-to-crack password.

2. Choose strong passwords

Passwords are perhaps the weakest point in the Internet’s security structure, but currently they are unavoidable. Unfortunately, people tend to choose passwords that are easily remembered (such as “password” and “123456”), which are also easy for cybercriminals to guess. Use strong passwords that are unique and complex, from 8 to 15 characters long, with a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Update them regularly and don’t leave them written down where they can be seen.

3. Be careful what you download

Cybercriminals may try to trick you into downloading malware, programs or apps that carry malware or try to steal information. This malware can be disguised as an app: anything from weather and traffic monitoring sites to popular games. Never download apps that look suspicious or come from a site you don’t trust.

4. Keep your personal information private

People you have never met apart from online interaction don’t need to know personal and private details such as your relationship status or your home address. Hackers use social media profiles for clues to figure out your passwords so avoid posting things like birthdays, nicknames, addresses, pet’s name, etc. If you wouldn’t usually share certain information with a stranger, don’t put it ‘out there’ to millions of strangers online.

5. Set and retain your privacy settings

Marketers love to know all about you, and so do hackers – and both can learn a lot from your browsing and social media usage. Enable privacy settings and keep them in place.

6. Practice safe browsing

You wouldn’t walk down a dark alleyway after dark, so don’t visit dangerous areas online. Cybercriminals tempt people to make that one careless click that could expose personal data or infect your device with malware. Check before you click: ensure that a link is safe by seeing if the link preview matches the site link you find by researching the company in Google. If you receive an email asking you to log in, it is safer not to use the link in the email but go to the brand’s official site instead.

7. Only shop online from secure, well-known sites

When shopping online, you need to provide credit card or bank account information – exactly what cybercriminals are trying to discover. Only supply this information to sites that provide secure, encrypted connections. Secure sites start with https: (the S stands for secure) rather than simply http: at the beginning of the link. They may also be marked by a padlock icon next to the address bar.

8. Be careful what you post

The Internet does not have a delete or rewind button, so never share anything you shouldn’t. Any comment or image you post may stay online forever because removing the original (say, from Twitter) does not remove any copies that other people made. There is no way for you to take back a harsh or indiscreet remark or get rid of that embarrassing selfie. Don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want your family or a prospective business contact to see.

9. Be careful who you meet online

People you meet and interact with online are not always who they claim to be. They may not even be real. Fake social media profiles are an easy way for hackers to become your ‘friend’ and gain access to your personal information. Ignore requests to connect from people you don’t know, and warn your family about this too. Be as careful and sensible in your online social life as you are in your personal life.

10. Keep your antivirus protection up to date

Internet security software cannot protect against every threat, but it will detect and remove most malware, as long as it is up to date. Download updates – they are designed to offer protection again the latest threats.

To sum up – be mindful of what you are doing when you go online, and where you are doing it. Is someone watching over your shoulder as you log in to do your internet banking? Are you revealing too much about your life to the world? It is vital to warn your children about how to behave online, and encourage them to come to you if they feel uncomfortable about something they have seen or done online.