What is 'staying safe' online?
From identity thieves to rampaging computer viruses, the web can sometimes seem like a daunting place. But it doesn’t have to be. Follow Greg Watson’s expert guide that featured in our Autumn issue of Life & Living.
Reading all the scare stories, you’d be forgiven for thinking the internet was nothing but a den of criminality, with thieves lining up to steal everything from your hard-earned pounds to your entire identity. Some of the most useful features of the web (like online shopping and banking) require sensitive information – but follow these four simple rules and you can make that info secure.
Four Simple Rules
- Passwords protect. Yes, we do mean passwords plural because you should never use the same one every time. Choose ones you can remember, but also that are hard to guess. Common passwords like ‘123456’ and ‘password’ are asking for trouble. Never use the same password for essential sites like email and online banking as for online shopping sites. And update your passwords every so often. You could use a service like
LastPass (www.lastpass.com), which will generate a series of hard-to-guess passwords for you and keep them safely stored, so you only need to remember one master password.
- Don’t forget your computer. If you haven’t done so already, make sure you set up a password for your actual computer, so that you have to enter it each time you start up or wake it up from sleep. It may sound like a pain, but if someone breaks in and can
easily use your computer, just imagine what they could get up to! If you have a laptop, and are using it in public, make sure you set it to require a password to be woken up from being asleep – it only takes a minute for someone to hop on when you’re not looking.
- Beware those viruses. Now your machine is safely protected from prying eyes, you must safeguard it from viruses and ‘malware’ – small programs that invade your computer, generally making a nuisance of themselves. If you have a Mac you’re pretty safe, as long as you keep your system software up to date. PC users should also update often, and install an extra level of security. It needn’t cost a lot: Microsoft Security Essentials (<http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/security-essentials-download>) and AVG AntiVirus (<http://free.avg.com/gb-en/homepage>) offer free options.
- Phish alert! Online thieves have now taken to impersonating trusted brands to try to obtain your details. The most common tactic is called ‘phishing’ and can even catch out experienced users. You might receive an email from what looks like a trusted source, like your bank. Clicking on the link takes you to a fake (but often very convincing) site, which records information you enter. One of the best tactics is to ignore emails and type in the web addresses, instead of following links from email. The same goes for dodgy-looking emails with attachments, often ending with ‘.exe’. These are usually viruses, and should be deleted. Remember you can call your bank or a retailer if in doubt.
For more advice about staying safe online, visit www.getsafeonline.org.