Staying safe online

Top tips on how to stay safe online.

Whilst the internet has so much amazing content, creativity and entertainment to choose from, it can also be a dangerous place due to there being a lot of online viruses, scammers and cybercriminals out there. We’ve put together some top tips on how to stay safe online, which should be applied to PCs, laptops, smartphones and all other devices.

Don’t share your personal information

The first place to start is remembering never to share your personal and confidential information online. This includes your address, passwords and banking information, as anything you post may continue to exist online even if you delete it.

Backers and criminals are constantly on the look-out for people who slip up and share this kind of information on social media channels, online forums and anywhere else that’s easily accessible, so always be vigilant and keep this data to yourself. 

Use antivirus software

Every device should have some form of antivirus software because it will protect you against hackers, data thieves, spyware, ransomware and of course online viruses. It’s not just your computer that requires antivirus software, as you should also equip any laptops, smartphones and similar devices with this strong form of digital protection.

Some of the best antivirus software providers are Norton, McAfee and Bitdefender, which are affordably priced and well worth the money. When you consider the alternative, it’s a no-brainer that having antivirus software in place is one of the top ways to stay safe online.

Always check links before clicking

Sadly, a very good trait to have when using the internet is to always be suspicious, as millions of phishing scams are taking place around the clock. A phishing scam is when a scammer sends a fraudulent message that seems real but is actually a trick to make you click a link. The link could then download a virus, steal your sensitive data or open up your internet connection to future attacks without you even realising.

Phishing scams are attempted through emails, texts, social media, WhatsApp messages and other common communication channels. They’re also becoming increasingly convincing, especially when they take a topical subject and try to persuade you to click a link. Common examples are phishing scams that claim you’ve won a prize or that someone wants to send you money, whereas topical themes have included everything from the coronavirus pandemic and NHS updates to tax returns and charitable collections for Ukraine.

Cybercriminals will go to any length to make you click a hazardous link, so if an email or message is either suspicious, unexpected or seems too good to be true, get a second opinion before going any further with it. It’s also a good idea to directly contact the organisation the message claims to be from (such as your bank, Microsoft or HMRC) to check if it was legitimate and log a report if it wasn’t.

Be careful with passwords

Passwords are a tricky one, as they need to be strong enough to remain uncracked but this also means you may forget them. There are a few tips relating to online passwords, so make sure to follow them all to ensure top levels of digital security:

  • Create a strong password: Never choose a password that someone else can guess. If you have a dog called Trixie, chances are you’ve shared pictures of her on your social media channels, which a hacker may be able to access and then use this information to guess your password. The same goes for dates of birth and other things that are relevant to your life, as a hacker will try these first. Instead, create passwords that use unexpected words or, even better, random combinations of letters, numbers and punctuation marks.
  • Mix them up: Ideally, you should have a unique password for everything you need to log into. That means one password for your email account, another for your online banking, and separate passwords for each of your social media channels. In doing so, even if a hacker cracks your email password, it doesn’t mean they’ll be able to access all of your other profiles and accounts.
  • Browser password managers: Seeing how you have different passwords for each account and they’re very hard to guess, you may find yourself forgetting them. Don’t worry, as your internet browser will give you the option to store your passwords and even automatically sign you in each time. This is convenient, fast and free, although it does mean that it only works on the one browser – using a different device will require entering your passwords, which you may not have access to at the time unless…
  • Password manager applications: To avoid the scenario of not being able to remember your passwords when using a different device, you could download a password manager application. This allows you to create, manage and access your secure passwords from any device whilst keeping them safe from prying eyes. The only thing is that you’ll need a VERY strong password for your password manager, as you definitely don’t want anyone hacking into it.

How NOT to store your passwords

It can be very tempting to store your passwords in other ways. You may write them down in a diary that you hide in a drawer, pop them all in a Word document on your computer, make a note on your smartphone or save them in an email. Unfortunately, all of these methods are flawed and risky – from a physical note being lost or destroyed to digital files and email servers being hacked, it’s very easy for something to go wrong.

Use a closed network

Another way to stay safe online is to use a closed network. Whilst an open network  allows data to flow between networks and platforms freely, a closed network only offers connectivity for a limited set of providers. By limiting the number of networks your devices can connect with, you’re essentially blocking countless potential viruses and hackers from getting through to you.

Turn on parental controls

If you have kids, it’s a good idea to activate the internet filter in your browsers, such as Chrome, Internet Explorer, Firefox and so on. The internet filter may be called different things according to the browser, such as SafeSearch, Family Safety or Safe Mode, but they all do the same thing.

When activated, parental controls stop searches from bringing up adult content. This security measure prevents children from viewing sensitive images and videos or visiting inappropriate websites, allowing you to leave your kids researching for homework, playing games and watching videos without having to worry about them coming across any nasty surprises.

Only shop on secure websites

Whenever you make an online purchase, your debit or credit card details will need to be submitted either directly or via a platform such as PayPal. If the retail website you’re using isn’t secure, there’s the risk of your personal information being accessed by cybercriminals.

For complete peace of mind, only use websites that provide secure, encrypted connections – you can identify a secure site by looking for an address that starts with https rather than http (the S stands for “secure”), and there may be a padlock icon in the address bar. If you use antivirus software, this should also alert you if a website poses a risk, in which case you should refrain from visiting it.

Beware of fake social media accounts

There’s a growing trend of hackers creating fake social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram in particular but also on Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms. These phoney profiles will look very much like the real thing, which could be anyone from a politician or celebrity to your auntie or brother.

To do this, hackers simply take a user’s basic information and profile picture, create a fake account, and then start sending friend requests to people that person is already friends with. The cybercriminal’s aim is to trick enough people into accepting the friend request and then send malicious links through posts and messages, which can lead to viruses being downloaded and sensitive information being leaked.

If you ever come across a fake account, ignore their friend request and report the account to the social media platform. As well as protecting your data, this also helps to remove and prevent dangerous accounts that could trick other people and cause them a lot of stress.

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