Guide: The Importance of Online Security
Staying safe online means protecting your accounts, personal details and finances from cybercriminals. As cyber theft is more and more common, online security is becoming increasingly important, both for individuals and for companies. Most of us use the internet in some form or other, whether that’s online banking, buying products or goods, or even just to send emails – as cybercriminals become increasingly more sophisticated it’s important to make sure that the information you use online is properly protected.
What are the risks?
There are different types of risks to consider when looking at online security. Fraud, for example, is one of the most serious, whether that is identity fraud or credit card fraud. Viruses and malware pose a significant threat to hardware and can infect a laptop or desktop, corrupting files and making personal information available to someone else. Hacking is another risk – where passwords are either stolen or guessed at by cybercriminals and personal information, from bank details to email accounts, can be accessed as a result.
We use passwords for almost everything that we access online and these open the door to a vast array of personal data. Passwords are probably the most important security measure that we have and yet a report by the regulator Ofcom has revealed that more than half of us will use the same password for just about every online account. This means that, should a hacker be able to correctly guess – or steal – a password for one account, all they would have to do would be to try that password in each online account in order to gain access to all of them. Many of us also use easy to remember details for passwords – such as birthdays, parents’ maiden names and pet’s names – and a huge number of people opt for ‘password’ or ‘1234,’ which are two of the most hacked passwords in history.
An easy first step towards upping the levels of your online security is to go through anything that you access online and change your passwords. Make them ‘un-guessable’ i.e. choose something that doesn’t obviously relate to you, and then mix up letters, numbers and capitals so as to ensure that the password isn’t easy to take a stab at. It might be harder to remember a password that doesn’t make sense but that also makes it more difficult to hack.
Downloading and Phishing
Downloaded files are one of the main ways that viruses spread and yet many of us will still click on a link, regardless of the potential threat. If you don’t trust a website then don’t download anything from it, you’re simply asking for trouble if you do. Phishing is the way that cybercriminals attempt to obtain personal information by sending communication that looks like it might be official, for example, an email from a bank or building society about an account. Again, this often uses links that will take the user to a new page requesting personal information – if the link isn’t genuine then the information that is being input is going directly to the cybercriminal and can then be used to access bank accounts etc. It is always a good idea to check the validity of an email your receive that is requesting bank details or account details. Most companies and banks won’t ask you to provide your personal information in this way so emails of this type are often fraudulent.
Safe internet use
Safely navigating websites is a lot about using your own common sense, particularly when it comes to trying to determine whether a site is genuine. Before you put any information into a website check the site out thoroughly – look for contact information, Google the name of the site to see if it’s mentioned in any conversations as fraudulent and look closely at the content. Is it badly spelled, not really saying anything, or inaccurate? If that’s the case then it’s more than likely to be a fake site. Look out for the padlock symbol, which usually appears in the browser window – if it is not there then don’t put any personal details or bank information into the site. The padlock indicates that you are using a secure link and so if it’s not there, any information you input is at risk.
There are several risks when using Wi-Fi to go online. The first is having Wi-Fi at home that isn’t properly secured. This can result in other people, who are within range, being able to access your Wi-Fi network. They can then use up your download allowance, access sensitive information being sent or received online, download inappropriate material and take up bandwidth, resulting in slower service for you. In order to avoid issues like this, simply make sure your Wi-Fi is secure – you can check this by searching for networks to see whether yours comes up with a padlock symbol next to it.
The second major risk with Wi-Fi is that, if you’re using a public network, someone unauthorised could intercept your information online, from passwords to email content. To avoid issues like this, make sure you have anti-spyware, anti-virus programs on the device you are using to access Wi-Fi and, on a public network, don’t send or receive any private information. It’s also worth steering clear of any networks that don’t require an encryption key or a password – although these don’t guarantee security, if they are not required then you are far more at risk.