Whether it's surfing the internet, shopping on the web, using social media or downloading apps and other files to your computer, it is crucial to understand the basic foundations of the risk you might face when online.
That is why we've written this simple starter guide to get you up to speed. In this issue, we'll look at the basic things adults need to know, while in a later article, we will focus on what adults should be aware of when it comes to keeping children and teenagers safe online.
In the near future, we will go on to expand on the basic tips here with more detailed information and suggestions for further steps you can take to be secure.
What are the main threats I will face?
Viruses - These are the most common way for computers to be infected so cybercriminals can steal your information. Viruses are often inadvertently downloaded when you visit a fake or compromised webpage online, open a virus-laden file sent to you as an email attachment or when you download free software. Viruses are most common on Windows PCs. They are less likely to occur on Mac computers but this does not make them immune. You may easily pass a computer virus to someone else, as an infected computer can infect thousands more.
Phishing - This happens when criminals attempt to find out information about you to steal your identity, access your bank accounts or clone your credit cards. It generally occurs through emails that look to be genuine messages from financial institutions, online stores or the Government. Usually they have links inside that take you to a fake webpage or a fake form to capture the details you will then enter, such as a home address or date of birth. Sometimes they'll look like real login pages too and capture passwords and security information as you enter it.
Spyware/Ransomware/Malware - These are tiny pieces of software that can do big damage. Like viruses, they spread through infected attachments, rogue webpages or fake links. Spyware allows a cybercriminal to spy on you. That could be through your webcam - watching what you are doing - or secretly logging everything you type in order to capture your passwords. Ransomware is slightly different and it can lock your computer or file folders and then demand a payment in order to give you access again. Malware is a catch-all name for both types.
Hacking - This is commonly in the news when hackers attack big businesses to steal millions of pieces of personal information or money. But hacking threats for personal computers and individual accounts happen every day. For example, if someone finds out your password through one of the above methods, and gains control of your social media account, this would count as you having been hacked. Often you'll see the Facebook accounts of friends and family hacked when they show weird posts such as cheap deals for sunglasses or random adverts/videos.
So how do I keep myself safe?
There are so many different ways to protect yourself. For now we will focus on the basic foundations of online safety.
Internet safety software - The best starting point is to install software on your PC (desktop and laptop) and Macs that automatically searches for viruses and malware 24/7 as you use your machine. Today's software will also monitor everything you do - in a good way - to alert you if you visit a fake webpage or one that is not secure. You'll also be able to schedule a regular deep clean of your system and this will then erase any potential threats it finds with just a few clicks. It is usually advisable to buy paid-for protection and not rely on basic free cover. Common brands include Norton, Kaspersky, McAfee, Avast, Trend and Webroot.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to keep hackers out is to use a strong password. The same passwords should never be used for multiple accounts. Also never use words that are easy to guess like the names of family or pets because you may have mentioned these online, for instance publicly on social media. A strong password uses at least eight characters. All accounts have different rules for passwords annoyingly but where you can, try to use a mix of numbers, upper and lower case letters and special symbols such as @, ! or £. Never write your passwords down and never ever reveal them to strangers who email/call you.
Online Shopping - One main tip for secure online shopping is to make sure the website you are visiting displays a padlock symbol in the URL (website name) bar. This shows it is safe. The URL should also begin with https:// not just http://. The 's' signifies it is secure. Fake online stores are one of the main ways cybercriminals and hackers use to steal people's details. So beware clicking of links on social media or in emails that talk of deals, discounts and offers that seem too good to be true. They usually are! Consider using PayPal or a credit card (not debit) to pay for things as these offer an extra level of refund protection if things go wrong.
Social Media - Hackers trick us on social media into clicking on web links or messages that have been posted or sent by family and friends. Our guard is down as we think they are trustworthy. But sometimes those family and friends have had their accounts compromised. Strong passwords are again important when it comes to all social media accounts - never use the same ones across them all. Always consider what you're about to click and also set up the extra security steps these platforms offer, including extra login questions. To hamper hackers, connect it also to your phone for a code sent to your mobile to change your password.
Downloads - Free software for your computer or free apps can often be used to spread viruses and malware. This is not always the case and sometimes not having to pay for either is a positive thing, or it could be that you'll receive a basic version and have to buy add-on elements. But always download apps/software from its official website or your computer's genuine software/app store. That way you can be confident what you are downloading has already been screened for any potential harms. Always beware clicking on a random web link, especially if it promises you a free version of something that would usually cost money to buy.
Emails - It should go without saying that password security is paramount for emails. If a hacker gets control, they could steal tonnes of personal information, reset logins and passwords to numerous other accounts - including online banking - and steal your identity or other's information by sending messages to others pretending to be you. Always close down old email accounts you no longer use. Always be mindful of what you open, especially with email attachments or links inside of emails. Your inbox will be full of spam/fake messages. You can also set up Two Factor Authorisation sending a code to your phone when you login.