In just 25 years, the Internet has completely revolutionized our daily lives. We watch TV shows, stream music, pay bills, and read news from our laptops and phones. Information that used to be found only in libraries is now at our fingertips 24/7, and we communicate with people across the world in real-time.
But amidst all these blessings, there is a dark side to the Internet. Threats lurk everywhere. Hackers are constantly devising new ways to steal our personal information. Criminals take advantage of the Web’s anonymity to lure victims. And anonymous trolls spread hate in every comments section.
We’re not going to just avoid the Internet all together, but we can reduce the risks. Here are 10 easy steps you can take to protect your safety while surfing the web:
- Secure your devices.
Strong security controls are your first line of defense against online threats. Make sure all of your Web-enabled devices are equipped with antivirus software. Free, highly-rated antivirus software can be downloaded at avg.com and www.pandasecurity.com.
- Keep your antivirus software up-to-date.
That antivirus software isn’t much good if you don’t keep it up-to-date. Hackers are constantly finding new ways to defeat security controls, and software vendors are constantly releasing updates and patches. Enable automatic updates if possible, and open your software regularly to ensure it’s current.
- Never give out personal info to people/organizations you don’t know.
This includes your passwords, address, birthdate, social security number, and bank account numbers.
- Use strong, unique passwords for each online account.
It’s tempting to use the same easy password for all of your accounts, but it’s much safer to use a strong, unique password for each. A strong password includes uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. To avoid writing down and possibly losing your passwords, try using a password manager that will store them for you.
- Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited.
Despite many highly publicized phishing scams and viruses, many people still make the mistake of clicking links or opening attachments in unsolicited emails. As a rule of thumb, delete emails from people or organizations you don’t recognize—without even reading them. Even if you know the sender, be wary of links or attachments that look suspicious. Check with the sender to see if they really sent the email.
- Do your e-commerce on secure sites.
Before entering your credit card number, check the URL at the top of your browser window. If it starts with “https” or “shttp,” you can be reasonably confident the site is secure. If not, don’t go through with the purchase.
- Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible.
Two-factor authentication combines two methods of proving your identity, such as something you know (a password) and something you are (a fingerprint). This makes it harder for someone else to hack into your account. And the harder it is for a hacker, the more likely he or she is to give up and go looking for easier targets.
- Use privacy controls wisely.
Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter offer several privacy options to let you control who can find you and who can see what you post. Set these carefully, and review them periodically. These controls are far from perfect (if someone really wants to see your profile, they can find a way), but as with all security threats, it’s best to mitigate the risk even if we can’t eliminate it.
- Be careful what you post.
The anonymity of the Internet leads some people to say things in a tweet, blog post, or status update that they would never say in-person. But these words can have negative, even tragic real-world consequences, both for the original poster and for others. Bottom line: if you wouldn’t say it to someone in person, or if you don’t want the whole world seeing it until the end of time, don’t put it online.
- Google yourself.
Try searching your name in quotes and your city or town. You may be surprised what comes up, and you may want to clean up your online presence accordingly. This is especially important when you’re on the job hunt. You can be sure potential employers will gather as much information about you as possible, so make sure there’s nothing online you wouldn’t want them to see.
Staying safe online is not a one-time deal. Just like staying safe in the physical world, it requires constant vigilance. Taking these initial steps will make you a good deal more secure and could save you a lot of headaches down the road.