Review was updated on 26 August, 2019
You only have to take a look around while walking down the street to know that the internet age has well and truly arrived. People glued to their smartphones, reading Facebook posts, sending WhatsApp messages back and forth, checking out Apple News, even while their away from a computer, we’re on the internet all the time. But that easy connection to the entire planet comes with some risks. Fortunately, there are a few tips to keep in mind to stay safe while you’re online.
How to browse the internet safely?
The internet is as essential to people today as newspapers were for previous generations. As you login to sites to browse, buy and watch, you’re counting on nobody else being able to see your stuff except you. However, your personal information can be incredibly useful to people with sinister intentions. And if your login details get compromised, the end result could be someone in a foreign country buying a ton of stuff off your credit card, or your bank account being drained of all its cash.
Plus there’s the even more frightening threat of what’s called “ransomware” – a virus that pops up an alert telling you that your files have been locked and asking for a substantial amount of cash to unlock them. Sounds pretty scary, right? Well, the good news is you can easily avoid any of this happening to you. You just need to make Internet safety a priority. It’ll cost you nothing, and can help ensure that you never have to tell your friends “I’ve been hacked!”. Follow these simple steps to help you stay safe on the internet.
- Choose a Good Password
- Watch Out for Email Scams
- Keep Your Computer Up to Date
- Use a Good Antivirus Program
- Avoid Bad Software
- Use Authentication
- Be Safe with Email
- Use a VPN
1. Choose a Good Password
There are more people than you’d think using really, really simple passwords. If you’ve chosen “password” as your password, or maybe “ABC123”, then you’re one of them. Your password is the prime method of defence against other people getting into your stuff, so you want to make sure it’s one that’s really, really hard to guess. That doesn’t mean your new password has to be something like “gD5&%21o5_k” – you ideally want a password that’s hard to guess, but easy for you (and you alone) to remember. No, don’t use things like your birth date – that can be easily guessed if your birthday is known to the world via Facebook. But come up with passwords that make sense to you – words you’ll remember. And never, ever use the same password on different sites or services. If you do, it only takes one hack, leak or slip, and the person that has your email/password combination for Netflix suddenly has access to everything you log into. You don’t want that.
Use a method for making your passwords unique that you can easily remember, but nobody can guess – or alternatively, use one of the excellent password manager apps that are around. 1password is one of the best – available for almost every mobile platform as well as PC/Mac, it (and other apps like it) let you set one single “master password” to get into the app, where you can store all your passwords for any time you forget one. If you don’t want to pay for a password manager, get LastPass – it’s completely free.
2. Watch Out for Email Scams
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” – you’ve heard that one before, and it’s the thing to remember whenever you’re checking your email. Those exclamation-filled announcements that you’ve won thousands of dollars? Unless you have actually entered a contest and recognise the sender, they’re almost always a scam designed to trick you into clicking a link. On the other end could be malicious software – or worse, a web page asking for your details, which then get used to access your accounts. Be especially aware of emails that look like they’re from banks (they will NEVER ask you to “update your details”) or government agencies. If in doubt, call the company yourself and ask them.
3. Keep Your Computer Up to Date
Microsoft and Apple regularly send out updates for their operating systems to plug newly discovered security holes that could cause you significant problems. Many attackers try tricks with software (on web sites and elsewhere) designed to take advantage of those holes, and it’s the ones who don’t keep updated that are the targets. Make sure auto-updates are turned on (on Windows 10, they’re always on, while for Mac computers, automatic updates are also a recommended option), so you’re always running the latest version.
4. Use a Good Antivirus Program
Antivirus software still plays a role in protecting you from internet nasties – though it’s increasingly more common for attackers to get in through trickery rather than malicious software. Nevertheless, you should always have a well-regarded antivirus program installed and running, one which updates at least daily to take account of the latest threats. Windows 10 comes with an excellent one built-in (Windows Defender), but you can buy commercial antivirus programs that are even better at the job. Mac users have less to fear from viruses – but they’re still around. The best way to avoid viruses? Check out our next tip.
5. Avoid Bad Software
Yes, free sounds tempting, but pirated (or “cracked”) software can easily be a point of entry for viruses and other malicious software – and the last thing you want to be installed alongside that “naughty” copy of Photoshop or Office is a silent “keylogger” that happily captures everything you type – including passwords – and sends it off to be collected and used. And we’ve already mentioned the newly fashionable “ransomware”. But dodgy software can come in more innocuous forms as well. If you’re visiting a web site and suddenly get a pop-up telling you that you “need to update Flash” or that you “have a security problem in Windows” or the like, ignore it. This is one of the main ways that malicious software makers try to get you to install their software willingly, and it rarely ends well. These days, no major software updates itself via a web site request. Don’t fall for it!
Also, if you’re running an installer for an app you’ve downloaded for free, keep an eye out for what is known as “drive-by installs”. The most common example is the installation of an annoying toolbar in your web browser that can then spam you with unwanted ads or track your browsing habits. When installing software, always double-check that there’s nothing ticked for installing that isn’t part of the software itself!
6. Use Authentication
One excellent way to keep your online accounts secure is to use a system called “Two-Factor Authentication” (sometimes referred to as 2FA). This is something you set up with each provider you have an account with – and you’ll need to download one of the free authenticator apps for your smartphone to get started. Both Microsoft and Google have excellent free authenticator apps (Microsoft’s is better since it backs up everything to the cloud, so you’re not locked out if you lose your phone). You log into your account and are given a QR code to scan into your authenticator app using your phone’s camera. That’s all there is to it! After that, when you log into an account on a device for the first time, you’ll be asked for the authenticator code. You load up your authenticator app and type in the number next to the provider’s entry there (the number changes every 30 seconds). With an authenticator protecting your account, even if someone steals your login and password, they can’t get into your accounts without your phone in their hands.
7. Be Safe with Email
If you’re one of those people that love signing up for contests, or gets asked a lot to sign up for an account just to visit a web site, don’t give them your primary email address – the one you use to log in to the essential things with. Instead, get yourself a second email address using one of the free services that are readily available – Gmail or Outlook, for example. That way you get a double bonus – if the site you’ve signed into turns out to be compromised, your primary email address isn’t. And also, all of the inevitable advertising spam is kept out of your inbox!
And here’s one of the most essential things to remember – NEVER click a link in an email that claims to be from your bank, a company like Apple or Microsoft, the ATO or anywhere else unless you’re 100% sure the email is from them. Scam emails are common, and they can look just like the real thing, leading you to convincing but fake sites that ask for sensitive details like your banking PIN or account details. If in doubt, call the company to ask them if the email is real – and remember, companies never, ever ask you to “update your details” via an email!
8. Use a VPN
If you spend any amount of time using public wi-fi – whether it’s the free public kind or the pay-as-you-go services found in airports and hotels – you should always be extremely careful about what sort of internet activity you do over those connections. The reason is that they’re often not secure, meaning malicious people could tap into your communications and find out private info like your passwords or banking details. The best way to secure yourself against this is to use a VPN. Available for a modest monthly or annual fee, a good VPN service lets you connect via an encrypted link to a secure and private server anywhere in the world you like, making your activity completely unreadable to anyone who tries. A good VPN can also give you greater internet security at home, as well as opening up features like the removal of geo-blocking restrictions.
If you’d like to know more about VPNs, what they are and what they can do for you – as well as find out which are the best ones on the market right now – head on over to our comprehensive VPN guide and find out about this low-cost, extremely powerful tool for staying secure and expanding your online experience.
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Billed $99.95 first 15 months and 12 months thereafter.
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Summary – Staying Safe Online is a Must!
Thanks to modern security measures in phone and computer software, it’s far easier to stay safe online than it used to be – but like anything in life, security and safety starts with you. Follow the above tips to reduce the chances of anyone snooping, be alert for red flags like scam emails, and you’ll be fine. The internet’s not as treacherous a place as some media scare stories would like you to believe, and if you make good security a part of your internet life, you’ll never have to waste experience the hassle and stress of being “hacked”.