Online safety has always been an extremely important topic, but in light of recent cyber attacks, we’re seeing increased interest from businesses and individuals to learn more about how to be safe online. Most of us will know about anti-virus software – but is that enough to stay safe online?
We’ve teamed up with the team at Which? to share top online safety tips directly from the experts. The team handles a large number of individual cases of malicious software complaints and therefore couldn’t be more suited to answer our online safety newbie questions!
The most popular forms of scams in the digital world remain cold calling (remember that PPI call you got the other day? We do…) and online pop-ups when browsing. Pop-ups in particular are notoriously mistaken for notifications which is not making things any easier for you – hence why it’s important to learn to distinguish between the two. Look out for language, use of special characters and pushy calls-to-action. Seasonal scams are also on the rise – most of us will have received PayPal, Amazon and Apple phishing emails in the last six months and the trick is to always double-check the sender email address by hovering over it. Also, keep in mind none of these companies will ever ask you to provide passwords or financial information over email.
There are still people who easily fall into these online traps and all we need to do is take some time to learn about and understand the risks and simple measures to keep enjoying what the internet has to offer safely.
What am I looking for?
Internet malware, or malicious software, comes in many different shapes and sizes; more than we could possibly list here, but generally we refer to computer viruses, worms, ransomware, spyware, adware – all of which you can be exposed to via email, phone and during browsing. Ads and email tend to be the most popular forms of malware given the mass use of email marketing and advertising on websites.
Rule number 1 – when in doubt, get advice!
Most people clicking on the “wrong” button or link admit to being unsure about doing it, but still do for one reason or another. The rule of thumb in online safety is that if you have the smallest doubt especially when receiving emails with links, seeing pop-ups and so on, you should ask around. Sometimes your family may have an answer, other times you can just use helpdesks such as Which?.
There is such a thing as too much security. When you overload your computer with antivirus software, firewalls etc. you are likely to experience slow browsing and generally your computer will not run as smoothly as you’d want it to and that could expose it to a whole lot of other issues. Install an antivirus software that you can trust (read reviews, ask your friends, family or experts) and stick to that. Simplicity is key, says one of the Which? online safety experts!
What about your online data?
In terms of your browsing and search history, you can head over to privacy.google.com to find out how your data is used to improve Google services. Not many people know that your can delete your activity from your Google user account at any point in time. If you are a business concerned with your data location in relation to EU regulations, do check with a competent internet service provider to answer your questions.
Let’s face it – we’ve all done it. Despite the myriad of articles raising awareness of the risks associated with having extremely easy passwords, or a single password for multiple accounts, we’ve all ignored the advice until we or our loved ones have been hacked.
The key to online safety is a frequently changed password, especially if you are a business, and ensuring you have a system for them, whether it’s changing one of the characters over time or adding special characters. Password managers may or may not be your best approach – be aware that take more effort and may raise software trouble of their own. Make sure you vary your passwords over time and over different accounts, especially bank, bills and personal email accounts!
Where possible and available, do enable the two step verification process as it does add an extra layer of security on your account. Committing a password to memory is still the best way to stay safe!
You want to keep hold of your emails, files, photos from your entire career or life to date – you’re certainly not the only one. But how do you ensure that you keep that data safe from hardware and software mishaps? Backing up is your friend. Three separate places, three separate passwords!
If you’re the opposite of a data hoarder and want to eliminate all traces of your data, especially when moving jobs or selling your hardware, make sure you read on the ways to delete data permanently. You probably know by now that formatting doesn’t do the job. Smashing or drowning your device won’t help much either… Instead, use software such as Blanko to delete your data permanently from a laptop or disk.
When connected to a public WiFi network, you should avoid shopping or be making any other financial transactions. Your online activity is a lot more exposed when you are, so be aware. Remembering passwords on your most used sites is a good idea so you don’t have to type up your password on public networks – which would expose your password more than if you did so in a private connection.
Whilst it’s hard to guarantee 100% online safety, there is plenty of advice and best practice to help you prevent unfortunate hacking incidents. We hope these top tips and steps will help you understand malware and immediately take the necessary measures to stay as safe as possible online!
Your online safety checklist
To sum up, here is your ‘how to be safe’ checklist courtesy of Google and Which?:
- Install and use a firewall or security software – remember to update your antivirus to the latest version
- Ensure your wifi network is locked and secure
- Avoid opening links from unknown emails
- Keep your operating system up to date
- Secure your user account on your computer with a password
- Use the two step verification process where available
- Have at least one browser installed, ideally two
- Create spare admin account for windows computers
- If possible, do not use internet service provider email domains – makes the transition to other domains in the future a real pain.