How to stay safe online

A couple of days ago I had the privilege of speaking to a group of writing students about the joys of blogging. Whilst many of them had never previously come across the concept of blogging and were intrigued by it, it didn’t take long for the question of online safety to come up. I must confess I was initially somewhat taken aback by their concerns, as I personally don’t worry much about getting virused, hacked, or falling victim to an online scam.

But as I pondered the question I realised that the reason I’m pretty relaxed about this stuff now is that over the years I’ve learned how to avoid most of the common pitfalls and recognise and deal with potentially threatening situations when they arise. Here are my top tips for staying safe online:

  • Install anti-virus and firewall software

    Because we are now spending more time online than ever before, the risk of contracting a computer virus nowadays is a lot higher than in the past. Add to that the fact that so-called malware is becoming ever-more sophisticated and hopefully it’s fairly obvious that it’s in your best interest to use protection! There are many commercial and free options available, so there’s really no excuse not to.

  • Keep software up-to-date

    Software companies regularly release patches and upgrades to their applications as new vulnerabilities are discovered and addressed, and it’s essential that you keep your installations updated, including but not limited to your operating system (eg Windows), internet browser (eg Internet Explorer), and email program (eg Outlook). And make sure your anti-virus software is kept current too – new viruses are produced all the time, and your anti-virus software needs to be informed of them.

  • Enable appropriate security settings

    Browsers and other internet-enabled applications generally allow you to specify how you’d like to handle cookies, file downloads, and various types of dynamic content. It’s normally advisable to use the default values unless you understand the implications of changing them. Disable these settings at your peril!

  • Consider changing browser

    Most people use Windows computers with Internet Explorer, and because of this, most malware is concentrated on finding vulnerabilities in these applications. Moving away from Windows is probably a step too far for most people, but it’s quite easy to switch to a different browser – I personally prefer Firefox.

  • Don’t open email attachments

    Don’t open file attachments unless you’re sure they’re trustworthy. And just because a message appears to come from someone you know doesn’t necessarily mean it’s kosher – many viruses propagate by sending infected file attachments to everyone in the address book of an infected computer.

  • Be cautious about downloading files

    Only download stuff from reputable sites.

  • Beware social engineering scams and phishing expeditions

    Often the weakest part of a system is the human element – this is the basis of phishing scams. Online banking applications are technically very secure for obvious reasons, so scammers concentrate on duping unsuspecting bank customers into divulging their login information.

  • Log in via a secure connection

    When logging into online accounts, ensure you’re connecting via a secure connection. Look out for the https in your address bar, and the padlock symbol at the bottom of the screen. Also make sure you type in the website url correctly, as it’s not uncommon for scammers to create dummy sites based on mis-spellings of popular website addresses. And above all, never click on a link in an unsolicited email inviting you to “confirm your personal information”.

  • Choose passwords wisely

    A good password should contain a mixture of upper and lower-case letters, digits and symbols, and should not be a dictionary word.

  • Don’t give out personal information online

    This includes your address, phone numbers, email address, mother’s maiden name, date of birth, etc. This type of information can be used to commit identity theft, which can wreak havoc on your credit rating and cause untold stress to its victims. Bear this in mind when updating your profile in social networking environments like Facebook.

The net must seem a scary place to someone who’s just getting online for the first time. But as long as you’re careful, it’s really not all that bad – the balance of good far outweighs the negative stuff, in my opinion. The best piece of advice I can give is simply to use your common sense! If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. And if you do run into something that seems strange, get a more experienced friend to check it out for you, or do a Google search and see if anyone else shares your suspicions.

If you’d like to add anything that I’ve missed, please feel free to leave your comment below.

Stay safe!

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  1. Beware the False Prophet!
  2. Managing Risk in your Online Business

27 Responses to “How to stay safe online”

  1. Gravatar of kouji 1 kouji

    true. it’s also important, i feel, for newbie bloggers to realize that while the internet may at times feel like an anonymous place, it isn’t quite that. so it’s possible that libel laws may apply, and that a way might be found to identify a particular blogger. so there can also be a need to watch what you’re saying.

    also, even if a post is deleted by you, it may very well still exist somewhere online, such as in the form of a cache.

  2. Gravatar of Dennis Edell 2 Dennis Edell

    All good tips Rodney. I,like you, don’t really worry too much, but the newbies out there beware. It is indeed 99% common sense, but those are also the most overlooked.

  3. Gravatar of Atniz 3 Atniz

    Good list to secure our information online. I’m using avast antivirus and firefox. So far, this is the best combination that I could find online.

  4. Gravatar of Tlaga Jaya 4 Tlaga Jaya

    I try to protect my computer by using comodho firewall with symantec antivirus corporate edition plus with strict mode for firewall :) this information very useful for people who online for first time because usually people like that dont care about security, privacy etc.

  5. Gravatar of Tim 5 Tim

    I use a Mac, so viruses aren’t much of a problem for me. Firefox is a great program.
    I agree with Kouji about being careful what you put out there. Once it leaves your computer for the internet, it is out of your hands! In comments and such, it can never usually be erased or altered except by the owner of the site you commented on.

  6. Gravatar of Stockholm shoppa 6 Stockholm shoppa

    I am too way too relaxed when it comes to on line security.
    Ive been online virtually every day since 1997 though…and so far so good. As long as one installs a good virus program, and never ever opens suspect e-mails one should be fine.

  7. Gravatar of 7

    What a great topic for a post. I’ve never really thought about how many people that probably don’t know how to behave to be safe online. All the things you mention has been common knowledge for me for years so on a daily basis I’m never really thinking about it. It has become a habit to act in safe ways.

    But I can easily imagine how i.e. my parents or other people that aren’t spending hours and hours online everyday can have concerns about being online and protecting themselves. For that I think your points are a great starting point.

  8. Gravatar of Caleb 8 Caleb

    We as Im bloggers sometimes get fixated with our so-called knowledge that we forget the commoners out there don’t really know this stuff. There’s probaly about 99%commoners and about 1%IM’ers…we need to start having the newbie in mind as we contemplate new posts to write ;)

  9. Gravatar of Wayne John 9 Wayne John

    It’s like I do all this naturally and never really give it a thought. I just inherently know how to keep myself safe on the net…

    Now watch me get hacked or something….

  10. Gravatar of Rodney Smith 10 Rodney Smith

    Wayne: I know what you mean – check out my latest post!

  11. Gravatar of Matt Helphrey 11 Matt Helphrey

    I must say I have to agree about moving away from IE to Mozilla. I made the switch and havent looked back. No problems and easy to use. Thanks for the great post.

  12. Gravatar of The Site Rush 12 The Site Rush

    I use Norton for my anti virus. I heard it was the best you can get. Plus it’s cheap too, only $49.99

  13. Gravatar of PS3 13 PS3

    Thanks for this, now I’ll have something to comprehensive to refer people to when they ask about security.

    For Antivirus btw, I’d recommend Avira, which is free for personal use.

  14. Gravatar of work at home ideas 14 work at home ideas

    Very useful information and good tips and serves as a good reminder to all of us to remain safe online.

    Peter Lee

  15. Gravatar of Make Money From Home 15 Make Money From Home

    Im online so much its real tough to know how safe my info is. Great tips!

  16. Gravatar of Underarm Sweating 16 Underarm Sweating

    I use Avast, so far so good :)
    But first step should really be, to get off the explorer..
    I am using opera and satisfaction is 101% guaranteed!
    I used to use explorer (“like all the world”) but after changing it, I am not going back, for all the money.. haha

  17. Gravatar of Bluetooth Home Phones 17 Bluetooth Home Phones

    i personally use IE and have had no problems, but i do also have and use firefox when i need it. i also use AVG free because i’m cheap, but a very good source has told me that Kapersky is by far the best anti-virus software on the market.

    “think before you click.”

  18. Gravatar of Crédito por Telefone 18 Crédito por Telefone

    outra coisa muito importante é não dar os numeros de cartao de credito online sem ser em sites seguros e nao dar os numeros por telefone.

    another very important thing is not to the credit card numbers without being online on secure sites and do not give the numbers by telephone.

  19. Gravatar of Keegan Reilly 19 Keegan Reilly

    Great tips. I wish they would teach this stuff in middle school. It should be a class like health, I mean safe sex is one thing, but internet security, now that’s something to worry about.

  20. Gravatar of Bird Supplies 20 Bird Supplies

    These tips are worth a lot. The worst kind of attacks are the current phishing scams because they often look so real. I’ve received paypal emails that looked so real it was scary and I wonder how many people got scammed with these?

  21. Gravatar of Dieta 21 Dieta

    You should also remember to have multiple passwords. If you have one password for everything it’s easy for someone to extract it from some old forgetten account and use it to acces your paypal, bank account or anything like that.

  22. Gravatar of Car Bulbs 22 Car Bulbs

    When paying by credit card and you are redirected to a page that asks for your 3D secure details always check the URL to make sure the page is legit. Otherwise once the scammers have your card details and 3D secure info they will think its Christmas!

  23. Gravatar of Daniel 23 Daniel

    Except keeping my software up-to-date and changing my browser, I think I did everything by the book!! I am particular though about downloading files because by experience, I had a lot of virus issues from downloading files. Hence, unless it is really very important, I do not download. You are correct though, download only from reputable sites. And I have a regular tech who checked my computer asap in case a virus infected my computer.

  24. Gravatar of Headlight bulbs 24 Headlight bulbs

    I’ve seen some guy on the telly today who paid £15,000 for a S class mercedes via the Internet only to find that it was a scam site.

    It was advertised on Auto Trader (a totally genuine site) but it was suggested that the money be paid to a holding company until the car was delivered.

    Suffice to say it never arrived.

    AS the old saying goes “if something sounds to good to be true…”

  25. Gravatar of TechGuide1 25 TechGuide1

    Also I will suggest to use the new InPrivate of IE8 browsing feature while accessing secure sites.

  26. Gravatar of Headlight Bulbs 26 Headlight Bulbs

    I think the golden rule is to have multiple passwords like someone else has mentioned. As soon as they have one they will check other websites like your bank etc.. and it could be devastating.

  1. 1 Beware the False Prophet! at Blogging with WordPress
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