The internet makes it easy to connect with the world around you, and with currently 4.3 billion internet users worldwide, it is now essential for work, finding information, and catching up with loved ones.
However, with an increasing number of people using the internet, the risks associated with it are also expanding rapidly. Cybercriminals are targeting both individuals and organisations online with viruses and malware, resulting in identify theft, stolen credit card information and even computer damage. Therefore, it is ever more important to follow certain steps to ensure the internet is a safer place when you are using it.
Learn how to protect yourself, your family and devices with our top 10 tips to stay safe online.
1. Don’t share personal details
Nowadays, it is so easy to share your personal information online, especially on social media sites. However, try to be cautious about what you share, in particular, avoid giving out information like your name, address, or phone number. Listing this type of information online gives cybercriminals an opportunity to potentially target you with scams, guess your password or even steal your identity. Remember to be selective about what you share and check what people can see in your privacy settings.
2. Create strong passwords
One of the best ways to ensure your personal information stays safe online is to create unique, strong passwords for all of your accounts. People tend to choose a password which is easy to remember, but these types of passwords are also easy for hackers to guess. In fact, according to the NCSC, a great number of people in the UK are still using very weak passwords, whilst the password ‘123456’ was found to be used by 23.3 million people worldwide.
So on that note, what makes a good password? A strong and complex password should use a mixture of both lowercase and uppercase letters, as well as the use of numbers and symbols. Try to make your passwords as long as possible, as these prove to be much stronger.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t be using the same password across all of your accounts, but instead, use a different password for each. A password manager software, such as LastPass, can help to manage multiple passwords safely so you don’t forget them. We also recommend changing your password on a regular basis. Changing your password regularly is one of the easiest things you can do to prevent security breaches and makes it harder for hackers to access your devices. Just make sure you change it to a completely different password and avoid choosing one you’ve already had before.
3. Practice safe browsing
Even if you have the highest security settings and antivirus software in place, visiting risky websites or downloading unknown files, could still put you at risk of hackers, malware, or even loss of data. Therefore, developing safer browsing practices will help you to improve the security of your activity online. Avoiding public Wi-Fi, turning on your browser’s popup blocker, or reading privacy policies, are all steps you can take to strengthen your browsing security. Try to avoid visiting websites that don’t look legitimate or downloading anything until you are certain it is secure.
4. Make sure your internet connection is secure
With all of our devices connected to the internet these days, it can create a convenient way for criminals to gain access if there is a vulnerability in the Wi-Fi network. If a cybercriminal hacks into your Wi-Fi, they could potentially gain access to things such as your bank accounts, credit card details, and other personal information. There are various steps you can take to ensure your internet connection is secure, these include:
- Changing the default name of your Wi-Fi
- Having a unique and strong Wi-Fi password
- Ensuring your router’s software is up to date
- Using a VPN (virtual private network) to encrypt communications
- Providing a separate network for guests
- Using a good firewall
By following the above tips, you can make your wireless network more secure and decrease the chances of compromising your data.
5. Keep your antivirus software up to date
So, you have installed antivirus software to protect your computer from potential threats. But when was the last time you updated it? It’s extremely important to keep your antivirus software updated so your computer is protected against any new or emerging viruses.
Antivirus software offers a vital layer of security, defending against common viruses, suspicious websites and malicious attacks. Any updates for your antivirus software will include the latest security patches to avoid any nasty online attacks. It is possible to set your security software to check for updates at least once a day, this way you will make sure you are completely up to date.
6. Backup important files
From family photos to important work projects, our devices contain huge amounts of data. Unfortunately, this data can become lost, whether that’s through accidental deletion, computer malfunctions or viruses. Therefore, it’s important to protect yourself against data loss by making copies and backing up these files. Storing a copy of your data on a separate storage solution, such as a USB flash drive or portable hard drive, is vital to protect against data loss and ensure you are able to retrieve files with ease.
What type of hardware and how much capacity you need, will all depend on how much data you have to back up. After backing up your files, make sure that you store your backup device in a safe place.
- Flash drives: These forms of storage are best used to store smaller quantities of data, such as photos, videos and music files.
- External hard drives: An external hard drive will be the best option if your laptop or computer contains a large amount of data. External hard drives are available in varying capacities to ensure you have adequate storage space. As the name suggests, these devices connect to your computer externally, typically through a USB connection.
Even though you will be able to back up most of your files via online backup services, there are various disadvantages to doing this, including possible monthly costs and data caps.
7. Keep your privacy settings on
Social media platforms are a great way to keep in touch with friends, chat online, and interact with each other. However, these sites are potentially risky as hackers can learn a lot about your browsing and social media usage. Therefore, it’s important to turn on your privacy settings to safeguard against any possible attacks or identity theft. Websites may make it hard to find these settings, but the majority of social media sites will offer some form of privacy-enhancing tools.
Good privacy settings also mean that you have control over who sees your information and what you are sharing. Never sharing your password and setting your profile to private are great practices to follow.
8. Cover your webcam
Whether you are using it to join a work conference call or to check in with loved ones, there are numerous things that you can use a webcam for. Yet, what people tend to forget, is that webcams are vulnerable to being hacked. For this reason, it’s important to secure your webcam.
Although it may seem like a simple solution, covering up your webcam is one of the most effective ways to ensure that your webcam is protected from cybercriminals and that no one is spying on you. A webcam cover offers simple protection against hackers accessing your webcam and device camera. Typically, these covers can be left on your device to provide a discreet and secure solution. Although things like sticky notes or electrical tape do cover your webcam camera, try to avoid using these things as they can leave a sticky residue after and can easily fall off.
9. Look out for phishing and scams
The increasing rise in phishing attacks poses a significant threat to your online safety, so it is important to always be wary of things you click on or open on your computer. Phishing is a scam that involves cybercriminals sending messages that impersonate reputable companies or organisations, in order to obtain sensitive information such as passwords and credit card details. For example, someone may try to trick you into giving them information by pretending to work at the bank you have an account with.
Thankfully, there are various things to look out for in regards to protecting yourself from phishing attacks. These may include:
- Shortened links
- HTTP links instead of the correct HTTPS websites
- Misspelt names or grammatical errors
- Attachments that are not what they claim to be
If you are ever unsure whether you have been sent an email or link from a legitimate organisation or company, then refrain from clicking anything or opening any attachments and get in contact with the organisation separately. Ignore and delete any spam or phishing emails you receive.
10. Keep your devices secure
It’s important to implement these basic security measures on all of your devices, whether that be your family computer, mobile phone, personal laptop or smart home gadgets. There are various practical steps you can take to secure your devices and the information you hold on them. Keeping things like your operating systems up to date will protect you from vulnerabilities as they are identified. Alongside this, here are further steps you can take to keep your devices secure:
- Use strong passwords
- Install antivirus software
- Be mindful of what websites you are visiting
- Make sure that you log out of public Wi-Fi
- Keep apps and operating systems up to date
- Be careful what information you are sharing online
Have you come across any tips to stay safe online which aren’t listed above? Let us know in the comments below.