The internet can sometimes feel like the wild west. Every day 350,000 new malware programs are discovered and their developers would love nothing more than for you to download them online.
That statistic may sound a little unsettling. But thankfully, with a little knowledge, even the most technologically-challenged web surfer can travel safely online.
So how do you limit your risks online?
That’s the subject of today’s post as we’ve put together our 10 best internet safety tips to browse the web securely.
1. Create Ironclad Passwords
Internet safety starts with your passwords. Understand that hackers use sophisticated tools to automatically check all possible username and password combinations. If you have a short password, six characters or less, these tools can often determine your password within a few hours.
Here are a few tips to create ironclad passwords:
Create long password at least 12 characters long. It’s preferable to use as many characters as is allowed.
Don’t use any words that are in the dictionary. Your passwords should be a random mix of upper and lower case letters combined with numbers and special characters.
Don’t use the same password with all your accounts. If someone figures it out, they’ll potentially have access to all of them.
Instead, use a password manager like 1Password or LastPass.
You will only have to remember one password for the manager, and the app will automatically generate random passwords for all your accounts. It’s a great option to keep your accounts safe without going insane remembering passwords.
2. Use Two-Factor Authentication for All Accounts
80% of all data breaches can be avoided by using two-factor authentication (2FA).
You’ve seen 2FA before. That’s when a site asks you to give extra information to confirm your identity before you log in. For example, you may be asked to give a code that is sent to your phone. Many companies, such as Amazon, Paypal, and many banks that store private information, now offer 2FA.
While this extra step can be annoying, it provides an additional layer of security over a simple password and improves your security significantly.
3. Only Create Accounts on Trustworthy Sites
No matter how secure your passwords are, it won’t matter much if you create accounts on unscrupulous websites. Take caution with your information and don’t sign up with sites that look shady or unsafe.
Steer clear of sites that contain misspellings or poor grammar in their URL addresses. This is most certainly a sign the operator is spoofing a legitimate site in an attempt to gain your trust and subsequently your private information.
Not sure if a site is safe or not. We recommend consulting the Google Safe Browsing Transparency Report. You can cut-and-paste the URL of a site you’re visiting and receive a report on whether or not the site is trustworthy. It’s a valuable extra step that can boost your confidence in knowing if a site is safe or not.
4. Enable Your Privacy Settings
Both marketers and hackers can discover a lot of information about you by looking at your browser and social media usage. The easiest way to keep your information private is to enable your privacy settings on your browsers and your mobile devices.
Many companies, such as Facebook, offer enhanced privacy settings. But many times these settings are purposely hard to locate. That’s because your information has immense marketing value to these companies and other organizations they partner with.
5. Log Out of Sites Before You Leave Them
When you log into a site, that site creates a cookie in your browser. Cookies contain identifying information about you and if they are stolen it can compromise your account.
You can see how important this issue can be on sites that hold your most valuable information, such as bank and credit card accounts. As a routine precaution, make it a habit to log out of all sites once you are done.
Logging out is especially important when you are using a public computer or network. It’s also necessary when you are banking or shopping online as that is when your account and credit card numbers are most vulnerable.
6. Do All Shopping on Encrypted Sites Only
Whether you’re using social media or making a purchase on a website, always make sure you’re using a secure connection when you send sensitive data.
How do you know you’re using a secure connection? Simply check your URL address bar and make sure the web address includes “https” (HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure) and not “http” (HyperText Transfer Protocol).
In recent years websites have been under pressure from Google and other organizations to switch over to the secure protocol. In 2019, most legitimate sites now operate on the https protocol.
Bottom line, never send private information to an HTTP website.
7. Be Careful What You Download
Cybercriminals have long sought to get you to download malicious malware. This includes programs and apps that try to steal your personal information. Disguising apps such as a popular game or a weather service are popular ways these hackers try to gain access to your computer or devices.
While no practice is 100% safe, many security experts recommend only downloading apps from reputable companies like Apple and Google. At the very least, don’t download apps that come from sites you don’t completely trust.
8. Take Caution with Public Wi-Fi
According to research, 25% of all public Wi-Fi hotspots do not use any encryption. That’s a staggering number that proves that public Wi-Fi doesn’t necessarily mean safe Wi-Fi.
What this means is, anyone nearby can intercept information being sent from your computer to a website. This means cybercriminals can have access to your email accounts, passwords and any other sensitive information you access when you use an unsafe Wi-Fi network.
When you are using a public Wi-Fi network, always assume someone is watching. Don’t access your bank accounts or sites containing any information you wouldn’t want to be stolen.
If you enjoy the convenience of public Wi-Fi, we suggest creating a more secure connection with a Virtual Private Server (VPN).
9. Be Wary of Emails
Phishing scammers use fake email messages to get you to share personal information. When you detect an email from an unfamiliar address, or if the message appears suspicious, direct it straight to your spam folder. Never open emails from senders you don’t know.
One common scam is to disguise the sender’s address. For example, the sender’s name will say “PayPal” and have an email address that contains the word “PayPal” in it, such as firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
Scammers often use the company name and logo and create a fake site to appear like the company they are spoofing. They typically ask you to “verify your information” and provide a link to their fake website to do so.
Remember, legitimate companies don’t ask you to verify your information in an email. If you’re unsure, it’s always a good idea to visit the real site (don’t click any links) and check for yourself.
10. Keep All Software Current
You may not realize this, but most software updates have more to do with patching security holes than providing new services. Of course, companies don’t like to broadcast their security vulnerabilities. So they will emphasize that you should update your software in order to improve the performance or gain access to added features.
Understand that software developers are constantly battling cyberthieves who exploit holes in the software you are using. The developers then create a security patch to close the hole and make your software safer.
That’s why it’s extremely important to update your software as soon as you receive notifications about new versions. Keep everything current, including your computer operating system, software and web services, smart devices and even your anti-virus program.
If you operate your own site, you’ll need to take steps to secure your website from hackers. And those with small business networks need stronger internet technology (IT) solutions to keep data safe. For that, we recommend Charlotte IT Solutions (https://www.charlotteitsolutions.com/advanced-it-security/).
The Bottom Line About Internet Safety Tips
Being safe on the internet starts with being aware. Be mindful of the practices scammers use to gain access to your personal data. Always be cautious before giving private information online.
Adhere to these 10 internet safety tips and you can avoid most of the dangers that will hurt those who are less careful.
If you enjoyed this article, please check out five ways to protect your internet privacy now.