When you use the internet, as with anything in life, you are exposed to certain risks. The good news though is that you can reduce or eliminate many of these risks with just a few simple bits of advice and following a few simple rules. This isn’t exhaustive, but it will give you a few easy to follow things that will keep you out of trouble!

1 – Choose strong passwords.

You have probably heard this before and yet, many of you will still be using passwords like Password123 or john1978. Criminals can compile large quantities of data about us which are sold on the “dark web” (more on that later) and these will contain clues that can allow people to attempt to guess your passwords. Don’t use the same password for multiple accounts and where possible, try and use 2 Factor Authentication or 2FA as it is known. 2FA gives an added layer of security for your online accounts and if you can use it, you should. Google Authenticator is a simple one that you can install on your phone for example. Pick strong passwords which include upper and lower case letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t share these passwords with other people and where possible use a password manager like LastPass to keep track of them and make sure they are changed if they aren’t strong enough.

2 – Make online purchases from secure and reputable sites.

Any time you make a purchase online, you need to provide credit card or bank account information—just what cybercriminals are most eager to get their hands on. Only supply this information to sites that provide secure, encrypted connections. As Boston University notes, you can identify secure sites by looking for an address that starts with https: (the S stands for secure) rather than simply http: They may also be marked by a padlock icon next to the address bar. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is so look for reviews for the seller online and make sure that people got the goods they purchased before committing your hard earned money.

3 – Be careful what you download.

A top goal of cybercriminals is to trick you into downloading malware—programs or apps that carry malware (programs which can damage or compromise your computer) or try to steal information. This malware can be disguised as an app: anything from a popular game or toolbar to something that checks traffic or the weather. As PCWorld advises, don’t download anything you don’t need or that look suspicious or anything that comes from a site you don’t trust. If in doubt, don’t download! Make sure that your antivirus can check your downloads and can quarantine or delete any suspicious files.

4 – Make sure your antivirus is up to date.

Antivirus software cannot protect against every threat, but it can detect and remove most malware—though you should make sure it’s  up to date. Be sure to stay current with your operating system’s updates and updates to applications you use. They provide a vital layer of security. There are lots to choose from so try and search for “best free antivirus software 2020” or something similar on your favourite search engine. The online security landscape moves so quickly that we don’t want to suggest one particular product but what can say is that for Windows 10 users Windows Defender is very good and built in and for everyone else, Avast! (although pay attention to their data sharing business model) has never let us down.

5 – Pay attention to your privacy settings.

Marketers love to know all about you, and so do hackers. Both can learn a lot from your browsing and social media usage. But you can take charge of your information. As noted by Lifehacker, both web browsers and mobile operating systems have settings available to protect your privacy online. Major websites like Facebook also have privacy-enhancing settings available. These settings are sometimes (deliberately) hard to find because companies want your personal information for its marketing value. Make sure you have enabled these privacy safeguards, and keep them enabled.

When visiting a site and that annoying popup appears asking if you want to allow all cookies, try where possible to select essential cookies only unless you are happy for that site to know more about you and your browsing habits.

6 – Keep personal information personal.

Potential employers or customers don’t need to know your personal relationship status or your home address. They do need to know about your expertise and professional background, and how to get in touch with you. You wouldn’t hand purely personal information out to strangers individually—don’t hand it out to millions of people online. In combination with the privacy settings in point 5 make sure that you keep an eye on who can see your content and remember, there is no delete button on the internet. Anything you put on there could be around for years, or decades to come! There is no way for you to “take back” a remark you wish you hadn’t made, or get rid of that embarrassing selfie you took at a party. Don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want your mum or a prospective employer to see.

7 – Don’t click untrusted links.

Be savvy with what you click on. One of the most common ways to get a virus is to click on untrustworthy links, therefore opening a gateway for a virus. When you get an email and it tells you that “Your TV licence needs renewing because your direct debit has failed”, or “You are due a refund from HMRC” or “Your Paypal account has been locked” be wary. Don’t click on the link in the email. Try to hover over the link to see if you can see where it is directing you. An email from HMRC probably wouldn’t come from for example. If you are concerned it may be a legitimate problem, go to the site the email purports to be from and contact them directly. 9 out of 10 times, these are scam emails and should be ignored. If in doubt, don’t click!

8 – If you often use public wifi, consider using a VPN.

A VPN or Virtual Private Network secures the traffic from your computer to another location. This is very useful if you find yourself using public wifi on a regular basis. Sometimes public security on networks is a little lacking and this can allow people who want tot observe your internet traffic (including your usernames and passwords in certain circumstances). Using a VPN is a more advanced technique than most listed here, but it is a very valuable tool if you need to protect your privacy.

These few steps should help keep you safe online, hopefully we have given you a few hints and tips without scaring you too much! The internet is a wonderful place full of gems like this. 

Now we have covered the basics of Internet Safety, lets move on to the elements that make up the web.