Top 10 ways to stay safe online

March 18, 2017

The internet provides us with a huge range of opportunity and choice. We can connect easily and communicate with friends and family around the world, do our weekly shopping and organise our bills and payments all at the touch of a button, saving time and effort. All these activities use our personal information in some way – our bank details to make a payment, our photos and comments, or our address for deliveries. With more data about us online, risks of things like identity theft, hacking, ransomware, scams and fraud increase.

Here are some simple things that we can all do to help protect our personal data online and enjoy the internet safely:

1. Use different and original passwords 

– It’s important to have a different pin or password for all of your accounts so that if even if one account is hacked, the rest will be protected. The most important password to change regularly is the one for your email account as this can be used to reset your passwords for your others.

– Avoid choosing obvious passwords, such as your place of birth or child’s name as these are easy to find out.  Instead, use complex words or phrases which use capital letters, numbers and punctuation for extra security.  

2. Make use of security settings

Most companies supply a range of securing devices, such as privacy settings and passcodes. Always set a passcode on a smartphone – it’s surprising the number of people who don’t – without it all your apps, tickets, calendars, contacts, payment information and lots of personal information is readily available. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help if you find this tricky. 

3. Be careful what you share on social media

If you stick with the default settings, then anything you share on social media can be accessed anywhere by anyone, so think before you post. Spend time to find out the privacy settings and avoid sharing personal details especially those that can build up a full picture of you, like your address, workplace, holiday plans and names of close family.  

4. Take care with  Wi-Fi

Free public Wi-Fi is really convenient, but security can be an issue as you are sharing the network with lots of people. Use ‘https’ if you’re on a Wi-Fi network to connect to your email, social media or other personal accounts. 

5. Don’t be fooled by hoax emails, texts or messages

It is easy to be lured into an email claiming you are entitled to prize money or long-lost inheritance funds. If you receive such email asking for your bank details in order to claim it – watch out! This is an easy way for hackers to get your bank details and commit fraud.

6. Avoid opening email attachments or unusual links  

Viruses are often sent through email attachments or links. Viruses can harm your device and access personal information. If you don’t recognise the sender or know what the attachment is, don’t open it as it is likely that their email account has been hacked.

7. Use a temporary email addresses

When signing up to websites you’re often asked to supply an email address and contact information even if you’re only using the service once. In that case you can set up a temporary email address without having to give your actual email address. There are many websites which offer this service, simply search ‘temporary email addresses’ to discover the options.

8. Make sure your payments are secure

When making a payment online, look for web addresses that begin with ‘https://’, not just ‘http’, the s stands for secure. There should also be a green padlock to the left or right of the web address indicating that the website is secure.

Also check your bills and bank statements carefully after making payments to ensure no fraudulent action has taken place as a result of the transaction.

9. Keep software updated

Turning automatic updates on for your operating system and software is a really easy way to ensure you have the best available protection as each update builds in extra security automatically. If you have old software it will be missing the newest protections, so turn on automatic updates for all your devices.

10. Install and update firewalls, antivirus and anti-spy software

It’s important to have these set up on all of your devices as firewalls prevent unauthorised people from hacking your computer, antivirus software protects your computer from viruses and anti-spyware search for programmes which spy on your computer looking for passwords, accounts and personal details. Without these your devices are at greater risk of being hacked.

Consumers can call the National Consumer Helpline toll-free number 155 to lodge any complaints against traders or to seek advice.