The internet has become a crucial aspect of our lives, and few of us could imagine being offline for any length of time.
Unfortunately, and inevitably, our reliance on digital platforms has been noted by criminals.
They are investing huge amounts of time and effort into scamming us and stealing sensitive financial information – ranging from hijacking our hard drives to impersonating us.
Seasoned hackers and cybercriminals are now openly touting for business on the Deep Web, offering their services to people who wouldn’t previously have been able to commit online crimes.
Staying safe has never been so difficult – yet as we become increasingly dependent on apps and websites, it’s never been more important, either.
These are our tips for staying safe online, ranging from technical advice to common sense…
- Don’t assume Apple products are safe. It’s an enduring myth that Apple hardware enjoys immunity to viruses – in fact, malware targeting OS X and iOS is reaching record levels. Apple operating systems are viewed as easy prey in some quarters, so follow the steps below with equal diligence whether your daily device is a PC or Mac, Android device or iPhone.
- Don’t leave unattended devices logged on. You wouldn’t leave a smartphone unlocked on your desk during the lunchtime Pret run, so why leave a works laptop logged in? Unsupervised electronic devices are prone to misuse, theft, and even practical jokes – which may inadvertently compromise online security.
- Treat pop-ups or unexpected messages with caution. It’s not uncommon for flashing message windows to claim a device has been infected, urging the user to take preventative measures. However, these steps will install the very malware they claim to be preventing. Google the message’s contents on another device, to check whether it’s a known scam.
- Use two web browsers. Each platform has its own situation-specific advantages and drawbacks. For instance, the Tor browser is great for preserving anonymity while browsing, but hopeless for streaming. Use different browsers for separate tasks.
- Be guided by search engines. Website hijacking isn’t unheard of, but it’s rare. A site recommended by Google or Bing will almost certainly be free of malicious software (known as malware), which downloads itself when a compromised webpage is visited.
- Only buy from sites with HTTPS encryption. Reputable retailers will establish a secure connection between their server and customer devices, encrypting any sensitive data transmitted. This is indicated by an HTTPS web address, a padlock in the browser bar or the bar itself turning green. Insecure connections make data theft surprisingly easily.
Email and social media
- Never open attachments on unsolicited emails. Email remains a favoured method of virus and malware distribution, from infected screensavers to malicious Microsoft Office files. Even though email providers are generally good at stopping harmful attachments, some still slip through the net. An obvious tell-tale is an email address full of random characters.
- Be guarded about social media updates. Many people detail the minutiae of their lives on social media, but you can’t be sure who’s watching. For instance, mid-break holiday updates could inform local burglars your home is empty, while giving away too much information might enable people to impersonate you online. Always think before clicking Post.
- Avoid sharing passwords. Using the same login credentials for multiple accounts is hugely dangerous because if one gets compromised, criminals could run amok through your other digital accounts. And as Yahoo customers will ruefully acknowledge, personal information does get stolen sometimes…
General internet security
- Install an antivirus package – and leave it running. Anti-malware tools won’t work if their permissions have been deactivated. Ensure they can monitor incoming emails and analyse downloaded documents or programs. Regular deep scans of frequently used devices are recommended, ideally at night or on a set date every week/month.
- Use public WiFi networks with caution. It’s fine to save mobile data by logging into WiFi in hotel lobbies and cafés, but only for relatively mundane activities. These public networks are insecure and easily spied upon, making them unsuitable for online banking. Save that for your home WiFi network – and change the router’s default password, too.
- Choose intricate passwords. On the subject of passwords, most websites and apps support alphanumeric strings with a blend of upper and lowercase letters. The best also permit character symbols or two-factor logins requiring a second device. And if your passwords are getting a bit convoluted to remember, write them down somewhere safe at home.