5 Ways To Keep Yourself Safe Online

Photo by John Schnobrich on Unsplash

The internet is becoming ever more involved in our daily lives and Internet freedom has become a concept taken for granted by most people. In this day and age, we often see massive data breaches, marketers tracking information about you online and many more on the list of digital annoyances.

Being an Internet user, it is your responsibility to ensure you and your personal information is well protected from these prying eyes. It is not enough to simply trust your ISPs or browsers to do it for you. Don’t worry, however, this article will give you 5 simple ways to protect yourself online that anyone can do, regardless of your computer aptitude

1. Secure Passwords

Passwords have become the most common security feature we use today. It’s pretty safe to say everyone reading this has had to use a password at least once in their lives. Passwords are everywhere on the Internet today, from your Email to your phones to your laptops! Passwords are a very familiar concept to everyone who uses the Internet. However, not everyone knows how to properly use a password to protect themselves.

The easiest way hackers attempt to steal data is to take a pair of username and password, and try them on every site they know, from banking websites to social media.

As a volunteer, I’ve helped out with educating the public about secure passwords before, and I was shocked to find out how many of them would use insecure passwords, such as their name, birthday, or even just something as simple as “123456789”.

According to a report done by TeleSign, nearly 3 out of 4 of their consumers use duplicate passwords, many of which have not been changed in five years or more.

Here are some guidelines to create a secure password:

  • Use long passwords at least 10 characters or more
  • Use different passwords for each service
  • Use a mix of letters, numbers, symbols and if possible, non-keyboard characters to create your passwords
  • Do not use any sequences like “abcd” or “1234”

Using different passwords for every service can be difficult due to human memory. In this case, you can try using a password manager, so you only need to remember one master password instead of 20 different ones.

2. Change Your Social Media Settings

Everyone uses social media nowadays. Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn are just a few examples of the various platforms we use to broadcast our day-to-day lives. However, when you put information on these sites, they are available to a lot of people, especially if you are not careful.

All social media applications have privacy settings that you should take some time to review. For example, Facebook has the option to decide what information to show strangers and which to show friends. This feature can be used to hide whatever you don’t want strangers seeing. Instagram has the option to turn your account private so that only followers you approve can see your posts.

You have the power to decide who can see what on your accounts, so use it to better protect yourself and the information you put online.

3. Download Protection Software

Cyber threats are prevalent in today’s world, from malware to spyware to viruses, attackers are using whatever they can to attack you. You can protect yourself by downloading trusted and reputable anti-virus software. There are various options, from open-source to paid subscriptions. Choose the one you prefer and trust, I currently use Avast.

Your anti-virus software will routinely scan your files and downloads and flag suspicious ones out to alert you to them. However, even the best anti-virus software isn’t foolproof. You have to do your part too. Avoid clicking on unsolicited or suspicious links. Do not download anything that looks suspicious or dangerous.

4. Use Two-Factor Authentication

Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is starting to be more prevalent in most accounts that we use, such as Google or Dropbox. Most of us would grumble at the added effort we must complete to log in, such as using a One-Time Password or biometrics. However, 2FA is incredibly useful in helping to protect you in more than one way.

Firstly, it helps you verify that you are you. Passwords can be stolen or guessed, but biometrics such as facial recognition and fingerprints are much harder to copy, as they are unique to you.

Secondly, if you suddenly received a notification on your phone or prompted to use biometrics, you know that someone is trying to hack into your account. They may have even guessed the password already. This is a red alert to you to change your password as soon as possible.

Sure, 2FA may be annoying and inconvenient at times, but trust me, it is worth it compared to having your account breached and sensitive data stolen. After all, we wouldn’t want the cute pictures of us and our partners stolen from our Dropbox account now do we?

5. Use a VPN

In my earlier post on 3 Key Considerations for Remote Working, I mentioned Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) as well. However, VPNs are not only just for remote workers.

VPNs help ensure your security on the web by being an encrypted network that hides your location and network transmissions. Say for example you are at a coffee shop or restaurant with “Free Wifi”. That wifi could be unencrypted and have its security settings configuration poorly. This may compromise your traffic on that network. Someone could be also on that network and without your consent, steal the data or information you transmit by using packet sniffers such as Wireshark.

VPNs encrypt your internet traffic by sending it through a server owned by the VPN provider. No one, not even the provider, can spy on your data. VPNs also hide your IP address and allows you to spoof your geolocation at times as well.

Conclusion

Internet privacy and security is of utmost importance. With more and more of our lives being displayed online, it is important we take it upon ourselves to ensure that we are well protected from hackers and others who want to steal your data. These are just 5 ways to protect yourself, if you want an even higher level of security, you can research other ways as well, such as updating your cookies. Who knows? I may even write a part 2 to this as well.

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