Eight Simple Internet Safety Rules To Follow
July 14, 2023
We use the Internet for everything, and that has become especially true over the last couple of years as more households have been working and learning from home. In addition to work and education, we’ve come to depend on it for entertainment, leisure, socialization, and even operating our homes (such as automated appliances and security systems). As technology has become more advanced, it’s enabled us to find more ways to utilize the Internet and incorporate it into our everyday lives. But there’s a giant caveat that we will always have to consider when sending and receiving information over a worldwide network: safety. Careless Internet habits can end up being costly and even harmful. If you’re not watching what information you’re sharing, viewing, or downloading, you could potentially expose yourself to scams, financial or identity theft, and more.
Fortunately, there are plenty of simple precautions you can take in order to utilize and benefit from the Internet in your everyday life without putting yourself at risk. Here are some rules to follow when going online.
1. Keep Confidential Information Offline
Identity theft is a serious risk to consider when going online. In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported a large increase in identify theft cases. This makes evident the fact that if any sensitive information is online, it can be found and used against you. So avoid posting personal information, like your social security number, at all costs. If you ever do have to share that kind of information online, even with someone you trust, make sure to encrypt it before emailing it. If you haven’t sent an encrypted email before, most big email services will teach you how. Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook all provide detailed instructions for how to do this.
Another thing to consider is what you put on social media. Pictures or comments that you wouldn’t want potential employers to find can always be found, so you’re better off not posting them in the first place. The same thing goes for information that people can use to find or contact you. If you’re not comfortable sharing it with a stranger on the street, you shouldn’t be comfortable posting it online. Another good tip to follow on social media is enabling privacy settings to keep as little information as possible visible to people who aren’t your friends or connections.
2. Make Sure a Website Is Secure
If you’re making a purchase online, or if you’re required to enter important information on a website, make sure the site provides a secure, encrypted connection. One quick way to see if a site is reliable and secure is to check for a padlock icon at the beginning of the URL in the address bar. You should also be on the lookout for how the page itself looks. If it looks poorly maintained, full of errors, full of big ads that cover the content, and otherwise suspicious, think twice before using it.
3. Be Careful What Content You Open and Download
Even if you’re not making a purchase or entering information, you still need to be careful about how you interact with suspicious sites or content. It’s tempting to stream or download TV shows or movies from unauthorized sites because you can do so for free, but a lot of these unauthorized sites put you at risk of infecting your device with malware. You’re best off avoiding this type of content, even if it means missing out on downloading a movie, series, or game for free.
You should also be aware of what links you receive in an email, especially if it’s spam. If you get an unexpected email from an unfamiliar source that is urging you to click on a link for any reason, you’re likely better off not opening it. If you receive a suspicious email, look up email scams that are similar to it. You might see that other people are reporting it.
4. Use Strong Passwords
You may want to choose an easy password because it’s easy to remember, but if it’s easy to remember then it may be easy for others to guess as well. Your devices and information will be much safer if you use long and complex passwords. It’s also a good idea to use different passwords for different accounts. If you use the same password for everything, a cybercriminal would only have to make one successful guess before having access to your social media accounts, email, financial information, and more.
Using two-factor authentication when possible will also benefit you. If you use it, a malicious actor trying to gain access to your account would not only have to guess your password, but a randomly generated code sent to a second device as well.
5. Be Careful with Public Wi-Fi Networks
If you’re using a free public Wi-Fi connection, don’t access your bank account or any other sensitive information until you are back on your own private home network. Fewer things are more convenient than free Wi-Fi, but it will never be as safe as a secure network because you don’t know who else is on it. If you have no other choice but to send or access sensitive information on an unsecured network, consider using a VPN.
6. Be Careful Who You Interact With Online
People may not always be who they say they are online. Fake social media profiles have been a common way for scammers or hackers to gain the trust of unsuspecting users. Be cautious and think twice before communicating or sharing information with them.
7. Use Up-to-Date Antivirus Software
If you don’t yet use an antivirus software, consider purchasing one and make sure to keep it updated. In this day and age, adding a layer of protection to your network is never a bad idea. A good and up-to-date Internet security program will detect and remove most malware and make your Internet experience much safer, providing a valuable way to boost cybersecurity in your home.
8. Update Your Computer’s Operating System and Programs
Most people are guilty of putting off updates because they don’t want to wait for them to complete. However, it’s essential to use the latest version of your operating system and apps. Developers monitor the latest threats and release security patches to protect against them. So, making sure all of your devices are equipped to continue protecting you and your information is well worth the time it takes.
The Internet is a vast, complex resource that has a lot to offer us. But it can also be dangerous if not used with care. To make your experience online as safe as possible, keep these eight simple rules in mind. By following these basic precautions, you’ll benefit from all the ways you can use the Internet without having to worry about being at risk.