The internet. Wow, what a life-changer! That global system of interconnected computer networks has changed the way we all live and go about our lives; and it’s doing so exponentially every day.
Since the system – originally commissioned by the US federal government in the 1960’s, gained worldwide acceptance within the academic world in the 1980’s, and then publicly in the 1990’s it has been a platform for incredible ingenuity and creativity. But ingenuity and creativity are not exclusive to the socially and ethically moral. No, unfortunately along with the internets flourishing rise came the immoral; the hackers, the phishers, the scammers, the nefarious crypto miners and all other manner of online criminal – anyone who wanted to cheat the system and those using it. And so, as early as 1970, cyber crime became – and continues to be – the fastest and most concerning form of crime we face; made all the more complex and frightening with the proliferation of devices in our every day lives; from smartphones and tablets to internet-connected appliances, we’re increasingly open to even greater risks. And so, the question remains, are you taking steps to stay safe online?
The internet is a powerful and useful tool, but in the same way that you shouldn’t drive without a seatbelt or license, or ride a bike without a helmet, you shouldn’t venture online without knowing the dangers and taking some basic precautions…
Here are 10 tips to help you stay safe online…
1. Complex Passwords: You’ve heard it before, but creating strong, unique passwords for all your accounts really is the best way to keep your personal and financial information safe. Your birthdate – as easy as it is to remember, just doesn’t cut it. And don’t reuse your passwords. Hackers can and do take leaked data from one account and use it to login to your other accounts. If you really can’t remember more than one complex password, and like most people you have multiple online accounts, use a password manager to help you store and create strong passwords for all of your accounts. Something like 1Password, LastPass or DashLane.
Keep in mind: A good password is hard for other people to guess, but easy for you to remember!
In additional, check to see if your online accounts offer biometric scanning – fingerprints and/or eyes, or multi-factor authentication. This is when multiple pieces of information are required to verify your identity. So, to log into an account you may need to enter a code that is sent to your phone, as well as your password and passphrase.
2. Network Security: Now that your logins are safer, make sure that your connections to the internet are secure. Your home Wi-Fi network is another entry point for hackers. Make sure you have a hard-to-crack password and consider security software that prevents and identifies “intruders” on the network. When at home or work, you may use a password-protected router that encrypts your data. What if you’re on the road? Like many, you might be tempted to use free, public Wi-Fi. The problem with public Wi-Fi is that it’s often unsecured. This means it’s relatively easy for a hacker to access your device or information. If you must connect publicly, invest in a Virtual Private Network (VPN). A VPN is a piece of software that creates a secure connection over the internet, so you can safely connect from anywhere.
3. Firewalls: Even if your network is secure, use a firewall. This is an electronic barrier that blocks unauthorised access to your computers and devices. Using a firewall ensures that all of the devices connected to your network are secured, including Internet of Things (IoT) devices like smart thermostats and webcams. This is important since many IoT devices aren’t equipped with security measures, giving hackers a vulnerable point of entry to your entire network.
4. Click Smart: Now that you’ve put smart tech measures into place, be careful of careless clicking. Many of today’s online threats are based on phishing or social engineering. This is when you are tricked into revealing personal or sensitive information for fraudulent purposes. Spam emails, phoney “free” offers, click bait and more all use these tactics to entice you to click on dangerous links or give up your personal information. Always be wary of offers that sound too good to be true, or ask for too much information.
5. Selective Sharing: These days, there are too many opportunities to share our personal information online. Be cautious about what you share, particularly when it comes to personal information. This can potentially be used to impersonate you, or guess your passwords and logins.
6. Protect Your Mobile Life: Our mobile devices can be just as vulnerable to online threats as our laptops. In fact, mobile devices face new risks, with risky apps and dangerous links sent by text message. Be careful where you click, don’t respond to messages from strangers, and only download apps from official app stores after reading other users’ reviews first. Make sure that your security software is enabled on your mobile, just like your computers and other devices. Put a strong passcode on your tablets and phones, and enable biometric fingerprint scanning.
7. Practice Safe Surfing & Shopping: When shopping online, or visiting websites for online banking or other sensitive transactions, always make sure that the site’s address starts with “https”, instead of just “http”, and has a padlock icon in the URL field. This indicates that the website is secure and uses encryption to scramble your data so it can’t be intercepted by others. Also, be on the lookout for websites that have misspellings or bad grammar in their addresses. They could be copycats of legitimate websites. Roll your mouse pointer over a link to reveal its true destination, displayed in the bottom left corner of your browser. Beware if this is different from what is displayed in the text of the link from either another website or an email. Use a safe search tool such as McAfee SiteAdvisor to steer clear of risky sites.
8. Keep up to date: Keep all your software updated so you have the latest security patches. Turn on automatic updates so you don’t have to think about it, and make sure that your security software is set to run regular scans.
9. Lookout for the latest scams: Online threats are evolving all the time, so make sure you know what to look out for. Currently, “ransomware” is on the rise. This is when a hacker threatens to lock you out of all of your files unless you agree to pay a ransom. Stay on top of this and other threats by staying informed.
10. Keep your guard up: Always be cautious about what you do online, which sites you visit, and what you share. Use comprehensive security software, and make sure to backup your data on a regular basis in case something goes wrong. By taking preventative measures, you can save yourself from headaches later on.
Author: Alan van Gysen
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