How to stay safe online (internet safety tips)
Almost everyone uses the Internet now, but not everyone knows about the dangers of using the Internet.
Internet threats are increasing and new threats are emerging every day.
From computer viruses to hackers to scammers to stalkers, you name it, they can all be found on the Internet.
That's why it's important to educate yourself and your family about how to stay safe online.
This article provides a few, simple, important Internet safety tips that can help everyone to stay safe online.
Tips for staying safe online
Keep your web browser Updated
Most web browsers get at least once or twice a month updates.
These updates may include important patches to fix security vulnerabilities in the browser and this prevents hackers or malware (malicious software) from exploiting these security holes.
Use caution when using browser extensions
Browser extensions can be very useful because they can extend the functionality of a web browser.
There are also many malicious extensions that can capture your passwords, track your Internet browsing activity, insert advertisements into web pages you visit, and infect your computer with malware (computer viruses, spyware, trojan horse, etc.).
Even a very popular and widely recommended extension can one day be hacked or sold and turned into a malicious extension.
Here are three examples of popular browser extensions that turned bad:
- Particle for YouTube was sold to a new developer who immediately turned it into Adware. [source]
- Web of Trust (WoT) recorded, collected, analyzed and sold data about its users browsing activities to third-parties without properly anonymizing the data, resulting in the personal identification of Web of Trust users. [source]
Try to use as few web browser extensions as possible and only download extensions from developers you definitely trust (e.g., Google, Microsoft, etc.), take your time to read all the dialog boxes that appear when you install an extension and don't download extensions bundled with other applications.
Use strong passwords or better yet use passphrases
A passphrase is like a password, but longer and more secure.
It's simply a phrase or sentence that you use instead of a word or set of characters.
You should create complex passphrases and not simply pick lyrics from a song or a line from a movie or book or a quote from Shakespeare and use that as a passphrase.
Let's take the following lyric “Life is too short and I got no time to sit around just wasting it”.
- Take the abbreviation of the lyric. Passphrase becomes litsaignttsajwi
- Change a few letters to uppercase letters. Passphrase becomes LitSaignTtsajWi
- Change letters to numbers. Passphrase becomes LitSai9nTt5ajWi
- Add punctuation. Passphrase becomes !LitSai9nTt5ajWi$
Let's take the following line from the movie Braveheart “They may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!”.
- Take the abbreviation of the lyric. Passphrase becomes tmtolbtntof!
- Change a few letters to uppercase letters. Passphrase becomes TmtolbtntoF!
- Change letters to numbers. Passphrase becomes Tmt01btntoF!
- Add punctuation. Passphrase becomes $Tmt01btntoF!
Another option is using a password manager like KeePassX, LastPass or 1Password for generating strong passphrases.
A password manager generates complex passwords and stores them in an encrypted database.
With a password manager, you only need to create and remember one strong password/passphrase to access all your other passwords.
Don't reuse passwords
Remembering passwords is hard and the easiest solution for many people is just to use the same one for everything.
You trust your bank to securely store your account password, right?
Do you also trust your email provider and social media sites?
And what about that one site that you created an account on to enter a giveaway?
Using a unique password is an important part of protecting yourself on the Internet.
One option is an option I mentioned before and that's using a password manager like KeePassX, LastPass or 1Password. Rather than remembering dozens of unique, strong passwords, you only need to remember a single master password and the password manager handles the rest.
You can even ask it to generate new passwords and update them on your sites to make switching over easier.
Enable two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication (also known as 2FA, 2-Step verification) is an extra layer of security for your online accounts designed to ensure that you're the only person who can access your accounts, even if someone else knows your passwords.
If you enable two-step verification on, let's say your Facebook, Twitter or Gmail account and want to log into your account, then you will not only need a username and password, but also something like a code that you can get via SMS, an authentication app, special software, email, or in another way.
Protect your wifi network with a password
WiFi without passwords is more convenient because then you don't need to constantly tell your friends what the password is when they hang out at your place.
You might not even care if your neighbors are using your WiFi.
Do you know the risks of allowing anyone to access your WiFi network?
Many computers will have different security settings based on how much you trust a network (and also your home WiFi).
Trusted networks typically let you share folders with other computers on the network, which means that anyone on your wireless network could look at the files stored in these shared folders.
By protecting your home WiFi with a password, you protect your computer and everyone else using your network.
You should also choose WPA2 or WPA encryption (WPA2 is the strongest) for your WiFi network and not WEP encryption.
Think about what you share online
Social media is all about sharing.
You know that all of your friends want to see what you're eating, right?
Have you considered what kind of information you are sharing when you post a photo or a status update about your plans?
Photos include location information, which can tell anyone who can see them exactly where it was taken (your backyard maybe?).
Posting about your vacation plans lets people know when your house may be empty (ideal information for burglars).
Think about what you post and what people could learn from reading it.
Turn off bluetooth
Bluetooth can be really useful.
You can use it for hands-free calling in the car and also for wireless keyboards and headphones.
What are the risks of using Bluetooth?
Bluetooth essentially keeps asking everything around it if they're available for a Bluetooth connection.
Under the right circumstances, this is fine since you can't typically connect to something via Bluetooth without entering a code from one device on another device.
But there are exploits (like BlueBorne) that can allow an attacker to access your smartphone or computer without even touching it.
So it's best to turn off Bluetooth when you're not using it.
Disable wifi auto connect
WiFi auto connect can be useful.
You go to your favorite cafe and you're automatically logged in without having to do a thing.
Even better, it works for chains of the same place as well and you're automatically logged into any of their WiFi networks.
That's really useful, right?
Have you ever thought about how that all works?
In a nutshell, your phone saves the WiFi name and password and tries to log into a network when it finds one with that same name.
But what stops someone from creating a network with the same name and using it to infect your phone with malware when you auto connect to it?
So it's best to turn off WiFi auto connect and only connect to WiFi networks that you know and trust.
Beware of public wifi networks
You're out at a cafe and want to take care of a couple things from your phone while waiting for your coffee.
You pull out your phone, connect to the cafe's WiFi network and get to work.
But have you considered the risks?
We've already talked about the risk of malicious WiFi networks but what can go wrong on a trusted network?
You may know that HTTPS encrypts the data going to and from your computer, but did you know that it doesn't apply to the URL of the site that you're visiting?
Anyone in the cafe with the right equipment (which is cheap) can know exactly what sites you're visiting.
Can you say that you're completely comfortable with anyone knowing every website that you're visiting?
The best solution for this is a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
What a VPN does is act as an encrypted tunnel between your computer and your internet provider.
This means that no-one on that public WiFi network can see anything about what sites you are visiting.
If you want more important tips on how to stay safe online, then I recommend reading the following article: Computer and Internet Security Tips against Viruses and Hackers.
Maybe you're also interested in:
Windows 10 security tips and is Windows Defender good enough?
Malware: types, protection, prevention, detection, and removal
Computer virus: types, symptoms, protection, and removal
FreedomPress: The three types of passphrases
PixelPrivacy: The real life risks of re-using the same passwords
HeimdalSecurity: Why you should start using two-factor authentication now
NetworkWorld: The importance of wireless security
HuffingtonPost: Three good reasons to lock down your wireless network
GOV.UK: Think before you share online
Techcrunch: New bluetooth vulnerability can hack a phone in 10 seconds