It seems that everywhere you turn, someone is surfing the internet. Some online banking here, some socialising there, some gaming over here. Due to the unstoppable adoption of the internet, we have opened ourselves up to threats that we might not even be aware of.
From phishing, identity theft all the way to straight kidnapping, the internet is not as innocuous as it used to be. Although it might all look like doom and gloom, being and staying safe on the internet is a lot easier than most of us realise.
Now, every single threat we face online is different, and there are different ways of keeping you, your family and your information safe online. We will start with your devices and cascade down to you and your loved ones. Ready? Let’s go.
Keeping your devices safe online
A good rule of thumb is that you should never connect to an unknown network, especially one that presents itself to you for free. It is not unusual to walk into a hotel or a cafe and have your phone beep that there is an open Wifi network that you can connect to.
While it may seem harmless, it can be the door that a third party might use to get into your device. So what do you do? Always ask the hotel or cafe what their actual wifi network is. If there are two networks with the same name, stay away from both of them. It is better to incur those roaming data charges than have all your private information end up in the wrong hands.
The second thing you can do to protect your device is to set strong passwords. From your actual device to all your online accounts, be sure to set strong passwords all over. Also, never use two passwords for the same account.
Use a reliable password manager
Services such as LastPass and DashLane usually take care of this for you. They help generate secure usernames and passwords for you and then save those in a secure, encrypted vault. After that, all you need is a secure master password and of course a secure password on your actual device. After setting this up, every time you need to log in somewhere, LastPass or DashLane will take care of it for you.
Both of these services are available on mobile devices, tablets and computers and they can be lifesavers for you.
After eliminating the vulnerability that is weak passwords, the next thing to do is to up your vigilance.
Keep an eye out or suspicious messages and emails
You may have heard the rule, “Do not click on anything whose origin you do not know” or “do not download software from untrusted sources”. These are reasonable rules that work. They help eliminate most of the areas that you can be taken advantage of.
Most of us use email, and from time to time, we receive emails that look real but are not. For example, I received this email a week ago.
It does look real, it uses the same colours as Microsoft Hotmail does and sounds quite threatening: “We have stopped incoming emails on your account…” which might make you want to click to keep your account alive. If I weren’t careful, I would have clicked on the button had I not looked at the sender’s email address “email@example.com”. That doesn’t sound like Microsoft, does it?
So I copied the link and guess what, my browser warned me about that link which brings me to the next part.
Modern browsers and antiviruses
Modern browsers, such as Google Chrome, have a way of filtering suspicious links and websites. The browser will tell you that the link is not safe, in the same way a proper antivirus would.
- Use a modern browser or a blocker that filters out such threats.
- Install an antivirus that checks such links for you.
Use HTTPS websites during purchases
The “S” in HTTPS stands for secure. This means that any communication between you and the website you may be entering your information is encrypted. This ensures that no one snoops on your data as it is sent back and forth.
Also, be sure to secure your wifi and never use open wifi when shopping online or sending any secure or sensitive information as discussed above.
One of the first links to fool me was “www . goog . le . com” (don’t visit this please). See that extra dot? That means that that is not the real link and you may be visiting a malicious website. As discussed with looking carefully at any links in your emails, also always look carefully at any links you wish to copy and paste.
Also, be wary of link shorteners unless you trust the source as you may not know what websites they redirect you to.
Parental guidance software
This one is for the parents out there. While it is a good thing to let your kids go online, dangers lurk. Although it may not be a popular opinion, it is a good idea to get some parental software for your kids.
A good parental software keeps your kids away from inappropriate websites and in some cases can help track their movement. Be careful though. You do not want your kids to feel like you are overbearing.
Talk to them and let them know that you are doing this for their safety. Let them know that this is not about spying, rather about keeping them safe. Actually, most of these parental softwares only send alerts on suspicious activity, so your kids can rest easy in knowing that you are not always looking over their shoulders.
Threats are all around and just knowing that there are enemies out there is not enough. We all have to get proactive and learn to put up the proper defences:
- Use secure wifi networks that you are completely sure of. If in doubt ask. If in more doubt, let it go.
- Use password managers to create and store all your secure passwords.
- Set strong passwords on all your devices. A password manager will only help if someone cannot get into your phone, tablet or computer, especially if you are always logged into the password manager.
- Be wary of any links or attachment sent via email. If you receive an email or message talking about a security update, it is best that you visit the site yourself without clicking on any links sent to you, no matter how convenient they may look. Most websites have a banner at the top if they need to alert you about something.
- Parental guidance can help protect your child.
- Always check that any banking or shopping website uses an HTTPS address and that there is a green padlock at the start of the URL.
- Always check ay links that you are entering, clicking on or are redirected to. Don’t enter any sensitive details on any redirected websites.
Following these simple steps can help keep you safe online. Know someone who would benefit from this article? Please share it with them or share this on your social media account to keep the dangers at bay.