10 Tips for Staying Safe Online

10 Tips for Staying Safe Online

You don't have to look very far to run into trouble online, and it may be truthfully said that the virtual world can be just as perilous as the real one. People fall victim to a multitude of online scams and malicious software every day, and the chances of that happening are increased greatly if you have a shared family or work computer. Practising good online safety habits and encouraging your family to do the same is essential in the modern world, and this list takes a look at ten of the most important habits to get into.

1) Keep Your Computer Up to Date

There is no such thing as perfect software, and the more complex a program is, the more likely it is to have security holes that can leave your computer open to attack. For this reason, reputable software developers regularly release updates to address security concerns and overcome potential risks associated with their products. In fact, Microsoft releases updates for Windows every week, and they should always be installed as soon as they appear. Always makes sure that you have Windows and your programs configured to download and install updates automatically.

2) Be Wary of Email Attachments

A quick glance into your spam email folder will likely reveal dozens, if not hundreds, of potential scams and other security threats. Many security threats come in the form of malicious software included in email attachments. An important good practice to follow is to never download attachments from unknown senders or any other attachments that you weren't expecting, even if you know the sender. Be particularly wary of zipped archives and executable files, since these can contain malicious code that may attack your computer and expose your personal and financial information.

3) Avoid Downloading Pirated Content

Although it should go without saying that you should avoid downloading pirated content, millions of people still do it every day. Not only is pirated content, whether in the form of music, videos, games or programs, illegal: it can also come with malicious software. People should be particularly wary of torrent search engines and other file sharing websites regardless of what they are downloading. Online criminals often take advantage of the popularity of such services as a way to distribute malicious software.

4) Don't Follow Links in Unsolicited Emails

Links can be just as harmful as email attachments. Many spam emails contain links to supposed promotions or online shops only to try to dupe users into entering their financial or personal details to a third party. In many cases, the email may look genuine enough and may even appear to be from a real, reputable company. Known as phishing scams, such emails are becoming more and more common, and while a lot of them should be fairly obvious straight away, some of the more innovative online criminals have managed to fool even the most wary of Web users.

5) Up Your Security Settings

Unless you know exactly what you are doing, and you're the only person who has access to your computer, always use the highest security settings available. Increased security may be a pain, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. In addition to increasing the security settings provided by your operating system, such as User Account Control in Windows, be sure to make use of all of the security settings available for any online accounts you have, such as social networks, online shops and emails.

6) Avoid Posting Personal Information

Social media has come to play an important role in the lives of millions, and as a result, it has also become the bane of the modern world in some people's eyes. Commonly abused by irresponsible behaviour, social networks can spell disaster when they are not used correctly. Anyone who is concerned about their online safety and privacy should be particularly wary of what they post on social media, regardless of the privacy and security settings that they have at their disposal. To summarise, don't post anything online unless you don't mind the whole world being able to see it.

7) Use Secure Websites for Online Purchases

Any website that asks you to enter personal or financial information or usernames and passwords should be protected with transport layer security. Most browsers display an icon to the left of the Web address: for example, Google Chrome displays a small green padlock icon beside secured websites, and you can click on it to find out more about the website's security credentials. Protected websites encrypt the data being sent over their connections, preventing hackers from intercepting things like passwords and credit card information.

8) Use Different Passwords

Many people use the same password for all of their online accounts, in spite of the fact that it should be obvious why this is a bad idea. Most importantly, you should keep the password to your primary email account unique, and it is wise to change it every 90 to 120 days. Having someone find their way into one account is bad enough, but having that person being able to access all of your online accounts is obviously far, far worse. Remembering multiple passwords might not be easy, but it is essential to use unique passwords and change them about every 90 to 120 days.

9) Avoid Unsecured Wi-Fi Hotspots

Many public venues that offer wireless Internet have unsecured hotspots that potentially allow a third party to monitor the data being sent between your computer and the local broadband router. For this reason, you should avoid using unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots for anything like online shopping or accessing online accounts such as your email or social networks. If you must use unsecured connections, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to automatically encrypt any data sent out from your computer.

10) Restrict Access to Others

Unsurprisingly, any computer that is shared with others, such as a family or work computer, is far more open to security threats than one that is only accessed by a single person. Fortunately, Windows and other modern operating systems allow users to have separate accounts. Any shared computer should have an administrator account that only its owner can access. While the administrator account provides unrestricted access to important system settings, all other accounts can and should be restricted for the sake of security.

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