Internet security is one of the last things you want to think about. Convenience is what you want, not hassle. But while it’s tempting to bury your head in the sand and pretend the threats don’t exist, there are some simple things you can do which, ultimately, will make your life a lot easier.
That’s because prevention is better than cure: it’s preferable to avoid that one password you use for every website getting leaked and giving hackers access to all your online accounts. Imagine what they could do if they were able to log on to your Amazon, Google, Facebook, Twitter and even bank accounts.
Fortunately, a password manager is the answer here. And, of course, there’s a lot more to keeping safe online than having a separate, strong password for each account you hold.
So, without further ado, here are 10 tips that you can use to avoid scams and thwart hackers – plus keep your whole family safe.
1. Use a password manager
Their beauty is that they store all your logins (safely encrypted) and will automatically enter them when they’re needed, such as when you have to log onto your Amazon account, or log into an app. All you need to do is remember one password to get into the password manager.
2. Don’t click on links without checking them first
Received an email, WhatsApp or text message with a link in it? Even if it’s from someone you trust, don’t click it until you know it’s safe. Friends’ accounts can be hacked, but they can also be duped into forwarding links to fraudulent websites. If in doubt, type the website’s address in manually or search for it in Google.
3. Don’t open suspicious email attachments
If you get an attachment you weren’t expecting, avoid opening it. Especially avoid opening those which end in .exe, but just about all types of attachments can be malicious, even JPG photos.
4. Run good antivirus software
You can’t hope to stop all these nasty things by being vigilant. Make sure you use effective security software which will watch your back. And run it on all your devices, including Android phones. This should also protect your files from being encrypted by ransomware.
5. Use a VPN
You might know nothing about VPNs, but you should use one whenever you’re on public Wi-Fi. Admittedly, that happens a lot less these days, but whether you’re in a café, airport, shopping mall or especially when in a hotel, connect to your VPN to keep your internet activity private, particularly sensitive data such as logins and payment details.
6. Protect your identity
Hackers don’t create viruses just to mess up your computer. They want money, and one way to get it is to steal your identity. That’s why it’s crucial to be able to spot a fake website. There are so many scam emails which lure you in by promising tax refunds (or something similar) and then send you to a real-looking website which asks for all your details in order to pay you the money. Once you’ve handed over your identity like this, criminals can open credit accounts in your name and do all sorts of things.
Use an ID monitoring service (or visit HaveIBeenPwnd.com ) to alert you if your email addresses and other details have been exposed in any hacks. That way you can change you password quickly: breaches are often reported months after they happen, by which time it can be too late to prevent disaster.
7. Use 2FA
An extra way to protect your accounts even if your login details do get hacked and leaked online is to use two-factor authentication. Your bank forces you to do it, and many apps and websites offer it, but don’t make it mandatory.
It’s not as convenient having to wait for a code to be sent to your phone after you’ve entered your email address and password, but it means anyone who manages to get hold of your email address and password still won’t be able to get into your account without that second step of verification.
8. Keep your kids safe
A safer internet isn’t only about stopping viruses and having good password hygiene. If you have kids, you should also take steps to defend them from things like grooming, online bullying and more. Use their devices’ built-in parental controls – or a parental control app – to restrict what they can see online and make sure you understand the implications of them using TikTok, Instagram and other social media. Lock down their accounts so only their friends can message them and see what they post. The best policy is to talk to your kids, explain the dangers and why you need to restrict their access. When they understand the risks and dangers, they’ll be more willing to comply and less likely to put themselves in danger.
9. Lock down your own social media and don’t overshare
Facebook and other services are doing a better job these days of making you aware of your privacy settings, but you should check them and make sure you know who can see what you’re posting. It’s a bad idea to post photos of you jetting off to sunnier climes (I know, not something you’re thinking of right now) and revealing that your home is empty. Similarly, if you’re sharing payment details or passwords with friends, do it using an end-to-end encrypted service such as WhatsApp, not via email or SMS.
10. Keep everything up to date
Modern devices do a lot of the heavy lifting, automatically installing app updates and other things. But don’t ignore messages asking you to update to the latest version of Windows or any other operating system.
Updates often fix security holes and ignoring the nagging messages to update your devices and software is the security equivalent of burying your head in the sand.
These 10 tips just scratch the surface of online security, so if you’re keen to know more, here are some other articles that should prove useful. And if these tips helped you, share them with your friends.