People fall victim to malicious software attacks everyday. Online scams, identity theft and several other internet crimes make the virtual world very much as dangerous as the real world. By adopting a few good internet habits however, you can significantly reduce the risks. This article describes ten good security habits for staying safe online.
It’s very easy to fall victim to online scams and malicious software these days. Depending on the nature and severity of the threat, you may not even know you’re a victim. It is now essential to practice good online safety habits and encourage your family to do the same. Here are ten good security habits to learn and follow:
1. Don’t Use The Same Password Everywhere
It is very convenient to use the same password for all your online accounts and most people do this too. This is a bad idea! It’s bad enough if someone manages to gain access to one of your accounts. But it is far worse if that person gains access to all your account because you used one password across them all.
Besides making sure you use different passwords for different accounts, you should also try to change your passwords every few months (at least for your main accounts). Using multiple passwords and changing your passwords often is not easy. But since it is essential to staying safe online, it is well worth the effort.
2. Pirated Content Can Be Evil
Millions of people download pirated content everyday. You probably already know this is illegal. The relevant point about pirated content I want to mention here is that it very often comes bundled with malicious software. You should be particularly wary of torrent sites and other file sharing sites because online criminals often take advantage of the popularity of such websites and use them to spread malicious software. You should also be especially careful if the file you downloaded from a torrent site has the “.exe” extension. That is a Windows executable file and can potentially wreck a lot of havoc if it is malicious, and you mistakenly run it. If “.exe” is not the expected file format of the content you were seeking from the torrent site, you should delete the file immediately.
3. Treat Email Attachments With Caution
If you have a look at your spam folder, you will probably see hundreds of scam emails and security threats. Most of the security threats come in the form of email attachments that look “innocent” but actually contain malicious software. It is important that you never download (or if you mistakenly downloaded, never open) email attachments from people you don’t know. You should even be careful with email attachments from people you know as well. Especially if they are people you don’t trust too much. Executable files and zipped archives are usually the worst because they can contain malicious code that can attack your computer, grab your financial information, or even log your keystrokes and send the information to a remote hacker.
4. Safeguard Your Personal Information
True, most social networks have privacy and security settings. However, you should still be particularly wary of what (and how much) personal information you post on such networks. Social media can spell disaster if not used correctly. A good rule of thumb is: Don’t post anything unless you don’t mind the whole world being able to see it.
5. Always Install Updates
There are lots complex software we install on our computers these days. Including the operating system itself. The more complex software gets, the more chances there are that it has a security hole that hackers can exploit. This is one reason why most software keeps getting updates from time to time (think of Windows updates for example). The updates are sometimes meant to address specific security concerns that have been discovered in the software. In order to stay safe online, it is important to install these updates as they appear. For Windows, for example, you can configure the updates to download and install automatically. This is a recommended setting.
6. Don’t Click Links In Unsolicited Emails
Links in unsolicited emails can be just as harmful as email attachments. A lot of spam emails contain links that try to get unsuspecting users to enter their personal details, passwords, or financial information to a criminal third party. Sometimes, the email may look very genuine and may even appear to be from a real reputable company or person. When a criminal third party masquerades as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication, it is known a Phishing. Phishing scams are very common these days and while most are relatively easy to detect, others are very innovative and may fool even the most wary web user. Stay alert!
7. Only Buy Over HTTPS
Any website where you will be buying something or posting your financial information should be protected with transport layer security. You should make sure that the URL for such websites start with https instead of just http. Secure websites where you make financial transactions should display some form of indication in the address bar that show that the website is really secure. For example, if you visit PayPal home page on Google Chrome, you will see both https and a small green padlock icon that indicates that the websites is secure. Looks like this:
Always make sure the websites you make financial transactions on look similar. Protected websites encrypt the data being sent over their connections in order to prevent hackers from intercepting things like credit card information, passwords, etc.
8. Tighten Your Security Settings
If you’re not the only one who uses your computer, you should always use the highest security settings available. Besides increasing the security settings in your operating system, you should also understand and use the advanced security settings available with social network accounts, online shops, emails, etc. Examples of such security settings you may want to use include: two factor authentication, login notifications, etc.
9. Beware Of Public WiFi
I have previously written a full article about the dangers of public WiFi. With public and unsecured WiFi hotspots, it is possible for a third party to monitor the data being sent between your computer and a local router. Do not use unsecured WiFi for anything that private/personal. And certainly do not use unsecured WiFi for online shopping. If you must use unsecured WiFi for stuff like that, consider using a VPN to automatically encrypt any data sent out from your computer.
10. Restrict Other People’s Access To Your Devices
If your computer is shared (say with family), it is far more open to threats than if you use it alone. To keep a shared computer secure, you should have an administrator account with full privileges and other accounts with limited privileges. Windows and other operating systems make this easy to do. The restricted accounts should not have access to areas or settings that could potentially cause security issues.