The internet is an amazing thing. Think about it. With just a careful sequence of clicks or thumb taps, you can get pizza delivered to your front door, stream your favourite TV show, access in-depth information about any topic, share your photos and videos with thousands of people and keep in touch with friends and family no matter where they are in the world.
Even 20 years ago, many people hadn’t even heard of the internet, let alone imagined how much it would come to influence their lives. But today, many of those same people rely on the internet to do their shopping and banking, for entertainment and education, for socialising and for work.
With the internet playing such a significant role in modern life, it’s important you know how to stay safe online. We have created the Wi-Manx E-Safety guide to help you understand the threats that exist and show you how to avoid them.
Internet Security Best Practice
Though the types of threats you face online vary dramatically, by following some basic internet security best practice rules you can significantly minimise the possibility of anything going wrong.
Creating Strong Passwords
Internet security relies heavily on passwords. Passwords prevent unauthorised access to your accounts. In general, they work well. But only they only work if you have good ones and if you keep them secure.
Password dos and don’ts.
- Do create passwords that use a combination of words, numbers symbols, and upper-case and lower-case letters
- Don’t use generic passwords such as “password” or “user”
- Don’t use easily discoverable details about yourself (such as your date of birth, phone number, names of family members or pets, or address) as the basis for your password
- Don’t use adjacent keyboard combinations, such as “qwerty”, “123456” or “zxcvbn” as these are easy to guess
- Don’t write your passwords down. If you’re worried about forgetting them, use a password manager such as LastPass, Dashlane or 1Password
- Do use a unique password for every online service you use
- Do change your passwords frequently
- Don’t send your password over email or give it out over the phone
- Do disable autocomplete for usernames and passwords. Though this feature saves you time, autocomplete allows anyone with access to your computer to visit all your secured sites
- Do use 2-step verification, which requires a password and an additional piece of information, such as a code sent to your phone, before users are given access
- Do turn a simple sentence into a complex yet memorable password. For example, the sentence “I graduated from St. Ninian’s High School in 1986” becomes the password “IgfSNHSi1986”.
Keeping Emails Secure
Every day, 205 billion emails are sent. Recipes, cat videos, memes – many of these are inconsequential. But some contain highly sensitive information that you wouldn’t want anyone snooping on. The hub of your online life, it’s imperative that you keep your email secure. Here’s how.
- Use separate emails accounts. For example, create a recreational email account for various leisure websites, use a personal one for communicating with friends and family, make a throwaway one for spam and use your work email for just that – work! By keeping your emails separate, you make it harder for hackers to access all of your information in one go.
- Be wary of phishing scams. Hackers often impersonate respectable companies or individuals to encourage people to reveal sensitive information. Some of these are obvious, using bad English, gaudy graphics and strange requests (such as for scans of certified documents). Others are more convincing, and look very similar to communications you may receive from legitimate companies – such as PayPal or Amazon. A respectable company will never ask for your password or a large sum of money out of the blue. So never give out personal information to unknown senders or companies – no matter how adamant they are should that you should.
- Never click links in emails! Well, not unless you know the sender well or when you’re expecting a specific email – such as a forum registration link or account activation email. Links can take to pages which can infect your device with malware.
- Don’t download unsolicited email attachments. If you don’t know the sender or aren’t expecting an email, do not download any attachments. Even if a file looks innocent, it could be malicious code in disguise.
- Do not participate in chain emails. Chain emails are used to harvest email addresses so that scammers have more valid addresses to work with in the future. Report them as spam and delete them.
- Use the highest security option available from your email client or application.
- Avoid public Wi-Fi connections. Wi-Fi hotspots require no authentication to establish a network connection. Hackers can get unimpeded access to unsecured devices using the same network. If you have to use public Wi-Fi, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to add an additional layer of security.
Staying Safe When Online Shopping
In 2016, 53 percent of global internet users made an online purchase – that’s almost 1 billion people! The popularity of online retail is due to some very real benefits, such as convenience, speed and better prices.
That said, online shoppers should exercise caution to ensure that they only make purchases from respectable companies and that they avoid common scams. Here are our online shopping tips.
- Before making a purchase, do some background research on the website. See what other buyers are saying, and whether reviews are generally positive or negative. If you’ve never heard of the company before, google the company’s name, and look to see if it appears on any lists of fraudulent companies or scams.
- Online, information is like currency. It’s important you protect yours. When making an online purchase, be alert to the kinds of information that are being collected. If the vendor appears to be asking for information not required to carry out the transaction, query it or choose another vendor. Remember, you only need to fill out required fields at checkout. These are usually marked with a “*”.
- Use safe online payment options. Third-party payment services (such as PayPal and Google Wallet) and credit cards are generally very safe – though credit cards are the safest of the two. When possible, avoid using debit cards since this means handing over your card details and access to your checking account to every store you use.
- Read returns policies so you know what to expect if a purchase doesn’t go to plan. In the UK, buyers are legally entitled to request a refund within 14 days. And the seller must refund the customer within 14 days of receiving the returned goods.
- Check to see if the seller’s site uses the HTTPS protocol. Web addresses which begin with “https://” are secure, which means that any data exchanged on such sites remains private. Only make purchases from secure sites.
Protecting Your Computer
Malicious software, or Malware, is software designed to disrupt computer operations, gather information, gain access to private computer systems or display unwanted advertising. Malware includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware, scareware or any other software intended to cause harm or damage. To find out more about Malware, see our Beginners’ Guide To Malware.
Protecting your computer from Malware is relatively straightforward.
- Install anti-malware software. This helps find, stop and remove any malicious files. There are a variety of paid and free options available. Paid options – such as Panda, Norton and BitDefender – are the most effective. These require you to purchase an annual license for each device you wish to use the software on. Free software, such as Avast! Free Edition, GriSoft AVG Free and Microsoft Security Essentials are also available. Make sure that the solution you choose protects you against all types of malware.
- Ensure your firewall is turned on. Most computers come with a firewall. This is usually switched on automatically. But, to be safe, check to make sure yours is activated.
- Keep your Operating System (OS) updated. Your OS is the software which manages all other programs on your computer. Google’s Android, Microsoft’s Windows and Apple’s Mac OS are the most popular operating systems. Whichever you use, make sure to keep it updated, as this will give you stronger protection.
- Defend your wireless network. If you have wireless internet at home, you must ensure that people living nearby aren’t able to access your network. Your router will come with instructions that tell you how to set up and change your Wi-Fi password.
Protecting Your Smartphone or Tablet
Just like computers, smartphones and tablets need to be protected to ensure your data remains secure and your device continues to operate effectively. iPhone and iPad users can relax a bit, though, since it’s very unlikely that an iOS device will infected. In fact, only a handful of iPhone viruses have ever been created, and these were built by security professionals for academic and research purposes. If you “jailbreak” your iOS device (i.e., allow unauthorised apps to be installed on it), however, you open yourself up to possible attacks. So don’t!
For Android users, it’s a different story. There is plenty of malware targeted at Android devices. This is because Android is an “open” operating system (meaning anyone can develop and distribute their own modified versions of the system), because apps submitted to the Google Play Store previously had very little vetting and because apps can be installed from anywhere – not just the Play Store.
There are plenty of free and paid anti-malware apps available for Android, including:
Keeping Young Children Safe Online
For kids growing up today, the internet offers incredible opportunities to create, learn and connect. There are loads of brilliant resources for children online, including games, video-content, interactive education experiences and child-friendly news websites.
However, there are also legitimate concerns around children’s online safety. So what can parents do to ensure their children stay safe?
A web filter screens an incoming web page to determine whether some or all of it should be not displayed to the user. Depending on the rules provided by the person who set the filter up, a web filter is able to block particular websites that contain objectionable content – including pornography, profanity and more. Some of the best web filters include: Net Nanny, K9, DansGuardian and OpenDNS.
Windows’ Family Safety/iOS Family Safety
Since the release of Windows Vista, every copy of Windows comes with comprehensive parental controls that let parents control and monitor PC usage depending on which user is logged in to the computer. These features allow you to define which programs children can run, which apps they can use, which games they can play and which websites they can visit. Each user’s activity can be monitored via activity reports, and the controls can be modified in real time. See Microsoft’s guidance on setting up Family Safety.
Like Microsoft, Apple have built parental controls into Mac OS. These allow parents to specify computer usage, decide which programs their children can run, limit which apps can be downloaded and turn on web filtering. The controls also give parents the ability to control which users can communicate using the Mail, Messages and Game Centre apps, as well as limit access to connected hardware. You can find information about how to set up these controls on Apple’s website.
Talk to Your Child
Though these tools are a big help, one of the best ways to help your child stay safe online is good old-fashioned talking. Set boundaries and agree what’s appropriate, show them websites and apps you think they will like, ask which sites they use and visit them together, ask if they’ve seen anything online that has upset them, involve them in the conversation and include them in the decision-making process.
The NSPCC has some great advice about how to talk to children about the internet.
Internet Safety Tips for Tweens And Teenagers
Growing up in the digital era has made today’s young people incredibly technologically savvy and digitally aware. In the UK, the average teenager spends 27 hours online every week. Whether it’s watching your favourite show, browsing YouTube or posting social media updates, if you’re aged between eight and 19, you’re likely to use the internet extensively.
But there are several things tweens and teenagers need to be aware of online.
Privacy and Social Media
Social media is a big deal. Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. Snapchat. These platforms allow users to voluntarily share content with friends, family and followers, whether that’s videos, photos, graphics, music or text.
You’ve probably seen a fair amount of social media scandals hit the headlines in recent years, and you may have noticed how many of these stories have something in common – that the person at the centre has shared something the shouldn’t, such offensive language or explicit images of themselves or others.
Most social media platforms don’t allow individuals under the age of 13 to have an account and stipulate that those under 18 should have parental permission.
To stay safe:
- Think about what you share. Once something is online, it can be hard to get it off again. An offensive joke could cost you a job interview later in life. An embarrassing photo could end up in the wrong person’s hands. A nasty comment can hurt someone long after you’ve deleted it. So think carefully about the content you share and the potential ramifications of sharing it.
- Your passwords are private. No one should know your password apart from you. To avoid being impersonated, don’t share your password with anyone – including close friends. For advice about creating strong passwords, see above.
- Don’t talk about sex with strangers. Be extremely cautious when speaking with strangers. If a stranger reaches out to you, remember that they may not be what they appear. It’s very easy for an adult to impersonate a young person online, and so it’s important that you’re wary of any new, unknown contacts. If a stranger begins talks about sex, alarm bells should begin ringing. Contact your local police force if you are worried.
- Don’t arrange to meet people you don’t know. It’s not wise to meet people you’ve only spoken to online. However, if you feel you have forged a real friendship over the internet, and are certain you want to meet the person in real life, meet in a public place, tell your parents about the meeting, take some friends and meet in daylight.
- Set up a privacy level you’re comfortable with. All social networks allow users to determine how private their accounts are. Use the features each platform provides to achieve a privacy level that works for you.
Tips for Those Experiencing Cyber Bullying
Cyber bullying is any form of bullying that takes place online. The effects of cyber bullying can be devastating. There are lots of ways bullies can use the internet to target their victims, from harassment and impersonation to cyber stalking and blackmail. No matter how you’re being targeted or who’s targeting you, cyber bullying is never okay. If you’re being bullied online:
- Don’t respond. A response is exactly what the bully is looking for. Don’t give them the satisfaction of seeing you bite. By ignoring them, you empower yourself.
- Don’t retaliate. Retaliation can lead to a cycle of aggression, which ultimately reinforces the bully’s behaviour. By refusing to retaliate, you step outside of this cycle.
- Save all evidence. Posts can be deleted, images can be taken down, videos can be removed. No matter someone’s done to you, save a screenshot so that you can show your parents, the school or the police.
- Block the bully. Most social media sites give users the power to block all interaction with another user. If someone is harassing you, make sure to block them completely.
- Consult with the relevant authorities. Whether it’s your parents, the school or the police, tell people about your experience. These people care about you and will help you reach a resolution.
- Don’t be a bystander. If you become aware that someone you know is experiencing cyber bullying, tell your school or your parents. You could be doing someone a massive favour.
Illegal Downloading and Streaming
Today, thousands of websites allow you to watch the latest TV series and films without paying a penny. However, this much of the free content is being distributed illegally. There are dangers associated with downloading and streaming illegal content, and many sites offering such content are also riddled with malware.
Whilst the UK Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) focuses primarily on identifying, disrupting and prosecuting individuals stealing and distributing content, anyone accessing content from a pirate site is involving themselves in illegal behaviour.