We are well into the age of digital communication, the age of the Internet, aren’t we?
Billions of people browse the Web every single day. The average Internet user spends up to 6 to 8 hours each day surfing for information and resources.
Shopping, socialising, banking, marketing, almost any other activity can nowadays be done online.
The Net is truly a land of opportunity for all the right reasons. Or is it not?
With opportunities and convenience also come the possibility for malicious and even criminal exploitation. Dangerous and unscrupulous characters haunt the Web, ready for any chance to steal your money or identity. There are also viruses, trojans, malware, and other digital threats that could render your workstations and gadgets useless in a matter of seconds.
Keeping yourself and your devices safe should thus always be the main priority when you’re using the Internet. The following are simple but imperative steps you could adopt to immediately protect yourself.
As frightening as it may sound, it takes but some basic, conscious effort to stay safe online.
1. Be Vigilant On Social Media
The dawn of social media changed society as we know it, and safe to say, life will never be the same.
A huge percentage of communication is now exclusively done online, with private messaging and video calls removing the need to even venture outdoor to meet anyone in person.
Social media also provides a myriad of ways to share information. Anything from one’s thoughts through a written post, photos and videos, location, personal details, and so on.
As awesome as this sounds, remember the technology could be used for malicious purposes too – information you believe you are only sharing with family and friends can disseminate much further afield. Simply put, hackers and other cybercriminals can readily access your posts, private messages, and personal data if you neglect to put up proper defences. Defences such as always maintaining the right privacy settings for all your social media accounts.
In other words, you must ensure that those who aren’t your friends or follower i.e., strangers, are unable to learn about your habits, likes and dislikes, home address, etc.
While at it, review the cookie settings of your browsers too. Cookies are temporary files stored in your system that describe your surfing patterns, preferences, etc. While they provide for a more enjoyable, personalised surfing/online advertisement experience, they do still contain personal information about you.
Therefore, think twice before giving consent to cookie usage and what to permit in your browsers. The same goes for apps, games, and any other applications that collect personal information.
On a macro level, always ask yourself this question before sharing a social media post. Do I really need to share this information with the world?
Do you want to show pictures of your home? Even with the above measures, you can never be sure who your friends are sharing those pictures with. Do you want burglars running through bedroom pics when deciding which property to target?
If you’re known to live alone, do you want to tell the world you’re away on vacation for a month?
Lastly, if there’s reason enough for you to believe your security has been compromised on social media, consider staying safe by deleting your accounts completely. If you don’t know how to delete Instagram account or disable your Facebook, fret not, you can easily find the steps online to guide you through the processes.
An immediate deactivation might not completely salvage the situation. But at least it tells whoever is targeting you that you’re already on guard. It also tells them to back off.
2. Keep Payment Information Private
With E-Commerce nowadays the dominant mode of transactions, a large percentage of transactions are now being done online.
This is brilliant, as it allows anyone to shop at any time of day or night from any location. For businesses, it also ensures faster and smoother payments.
But needless to say, with benefits also come risks and threats. Paying online is never 100% safe. Even the biggest retail brands and corporations experience security breaches from time to time.
You must thus exercise sensible precautions when shopping online, as you’re essentially handing out your bank and credit card details to the website that you are using. To begin with, ensure that you’re transacting with a reputable, reliable, and secured platform.
As far as security is concerned, this can be determined simply by looking at your browser’s URL bar. If there’s a padlock graphic and an ‘s’ at the end of the ‘http’ section, i.e., HTTPS, it’s typically safe to assume that the site doesn’t pose a risk. On top of having been verified by the host as an authentic website.
When filling in credit card or bank account details, double-check to ensure the padlock graphic remains visible too.
With the increased use of online payment, most banks will also include their own security checks. For example, practically all credit cards require you to key in a one-time password (OTP) that’s sent to your registered cellphone. Or, the payment might necessitate your registered security PIN to confirm payment.
These steps might seem a nuisance, counter-productive to the convenience that online payment brings. But remember, they protect you.
Vice versa, red flags can include things like asking for excessive card and personal details before a transaction. Financially, you only need to provide a limited amount of data to pay online.
If a site starts asking for your marital status, job title, birthdates, and so on, you can “safely” assume you’re transacting with something shady.
3. Don’t Visit Sketchy Sites
The ugly truth is, the Internet is chocked full of dangerous websites, a frightening number of which hosts viruses, malware, and spyware capable of destroying your system and stealing your data before you can blink.
Just visiting any one of these sites could send your device into meltdown. Worse, if you’ve ever used the same device to log onto social media or pay online, you’d also have given away your identity and banking information.
Thus, always do your utmost to ensure the websites you visit are authentic and trustworthy; it is imperative for staying safe online.
Avoid clicking on adverts that sound dodgy. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it’s almost always a scam.
Always hunt for reviews to see whether other internet users had negative experiences with a website, app, or online retailer before performing any financial transaction. As a whole, such reviews offer a hint of what to expect.
It’s like, if an app is bombarded with a rain of negative reviews, would you want to pay for its services? To transact with it? To provide it your credit card details?
You’d be foolish to.