When the internet hit the spotlight 20 years ago, no one could have foreseen the massive success it would have been and just how vast it would eventually become—or maybe the creators did and this smart, accurate prediction is what led to its creation anyway! Either way, from its initial version in the early 90s, the internet has grown leaps and bounds.
However, as with all things in life, the internet can be quite a double-edged sword, too. Just as the number of sites and the benefits of the internet keep growing, so too does the list of cybercrimes, each day.
From malware infections to identity theft to hackers to sexual predators, there are a ton of things to beware of online.
That being said, you don’t have to renounce the internet to keep yourself safe; just a few simple tips can go a long way in protecting you and your dear ones. Here’s a ‘Staying Safe on the Internet’ 101 to help you out!
Why Should I Beware of the Internet?
From fake companies to fake lotteries to fake charities to transferring $100 to win 1 million to online dating frauds to malware to identity theft to questionable content, there’s a new internet scam each day.
You will, therefore, find a slew of few reasons to be wary of the internet as well as your behavior while you’re on the internet:
Identity theft, as the name suggests, involves the theft of another person’s identity, done by obtaining said person’s personal and financial information. This information is then used to commit crimes such as credit card fraud, creating fake accounts or posing as someone else to lure innocent victims and fool them. Commonly, identities stolen are not used by the thief; they’re often sold to the highest bidder.
While many identity thefts happen via hacking, they can also happen through the creation of fake websites designed to look like genuine ones. For example, a fake website that looks like the official website of a bank can lead people to think it’s the real deal. Other methods of identity theft include phishing, pharming, fake accounts, malware, remote access, skimming and imposters.
Less than 5 years ago, the United States experienced more than twice the global average of identity theft—a whopping 33%—with nearly 1 in 15 people being a victim.
That’s 12 million Americans a year! Though anyone using the internet can be a victim of identity theft, thieves most commonly target children, frequent social media users, members of the military, senior citizens and the deceased.
The types of identity theft include criminal, medical, high-tech, minor and financial identity thefts.
Interacting with Strangers
One of the biggest, most common risks that are growing each day is the number of victims who fall prey to interactions with strangers. It may be a wake-up call to some folks, but social media is not all fun and games—it has an ugly side too.
Social media is a breeding ground for tons of pedophiles and those who are ready to take advantage of the innocence and naivety of users; the number of minors who lie about their age and sign up on social media are the most common victims of such perpetrators.
Online predators abound on the internet, especially social media sites. Predators gradually gain the trust of their victims with affection, kind acts, and even gifts, gaining personal information in the process. They know the right things to say and do to kids to get them to trust them for their ends.
Additionally, cases of fraud and online grooming can also arise. Another major threat is cyberstalking—celebrities are not the only victims of this crime. Remember, there is no such thing as harmless stalking; stalking is an intrusion of privacy and downright creepy. Severe cases of stalking have even ended in murder (‘You’ on Netflix, anyone?). Many social media users also get sent inappropriate, disturbing content.
While social media is a great platform to make new friends, also bear in mind that many people are not who they say they are—there can be and most often is a mismatch between social media profiles and real life.
Careful What You Say!
Another huge problem that internet users don’t realize they can have is the stuff that they post on the medium. Though the internet is sold as a space where you have the freedom of speech, this freedom doesn’t come without consequences.
Nowadays, everyone, from job recruiters to professors to university admissions committees to normal folks, turns to the internet to conduct background checks.
University students and candidates for jobs are sometimes vetted online, whereas popularity on the internet is the new way to gauge the potential of a business, which means even vendors and investors are looking you up on the internet.
Questionable content posted online by individuals has led to their termination from jobs and the loss of their reputation, leading to a disrupted future. Careless tweeting could end up with the folks at law enforcement ending up on your doorstep! Apart from this, they also face cyber bullying; cyber bullying has led many people to sad ends.
The worst part? Even if you do realize that you’ve posted something inappropriate or questionable, it may be too late to take it back, even if you do manage to delete the post. The possibility of someone else having shared your post/reposted what you said t is extremely high, so always think twice, and then some, before you post/publish stuff on the internet!
Sadly, with the expansion of the internet and the widespread usage of social media, cyber bullying has become an all-too-common crime, especially among teens and young adults. The harassment or bullying of a person using electronic means, a whopping 36.5% of 12-17 year olds in the United States has been bullied at some point in their lives, a nearly two-fold increase from the numbers of 2007.
The invention of trolls and memes, among others, hasn’t helped the cause, with many innocent folks’ uploaded pictures being taken without their knowledge to be used as fodder in the troll and meme mills. Needless to say, this has frustrated one too many lives—remember that professor who was the face of every meme at one point of time, for his awkward smile (thankfully there’s a happy ending to this)?
Sadly, not all publicity is positive publicity for most folks, and understandably so.
Malware and Ransomware
Another threat to be wary of on the internet is malware and ransomware, which are viruses or harmful software that can infect your system. These can spread to your system when you open certain sites—generally, those labeled ‘not secure’. Sometimes, your system can also get infected by hackers who use the same Wi-Fi network as you in public spots, which takes us to the next topic of discussion.
Using public Wi-Fi can present a whole ton of risks that users don’t generally realize they are susceptible to. Spots that have a “Free Wi-Fi” sign may also be accompanied by a horde of hackers waiting to get into your system and steal your details for a range of fraudulent activities and cybercrime.
Hackers can get to you in a variety of ways, such as sharing files, creating fake hotspots, sending fake alerts or upgrades, and also gaining access to your system while using the same network.
Through these methods, they can steal your personal information to commit crimes such as identity theft, embezzlement of funds, creating fake accounts under your name, and so on.
Now that you know some of the ways in which the internet can harm you, read on to know the ways to keep yourself safe during your internet usage.
Read more here: How to Stay Safe on Public Wi-Fi
Staying Safe on the Internet
With a new internet scam “all day, every day”, taking the following measures can help protect you and keep you safe on the internet:
Using Complicated Passwords
While it’s very tempting to make “XlovesY” or “123456” your password, these are obviously going to be extremely easy to crack. Using strong passwords—a combination of special characters, numerals, and alphabets—will keep your password hard to guess or crack. Additionally, it may be tempting to use the same password for all your accounts as it is, of course, easier to remember, but that’s something that’s strongly not recommended!
At a time where hacking is rocking the world (and not in a good way), cracking one password or breaching a single database can open up Pandora’s box of user passwords. Recycling passwords can lead to hackers using the data from one successful attack and employing it on all other accounts too.
Here’s a tip—get yourself a good password manager. These can help create and store multiple passwords. Another tip is to keep your passwords at least 12 characters long and the last one is to avoid making your password so complicatedly efficient that you forget it yourself! Stick to the stuff you can remember, such as positive sentences, likes, dislikes and so on.
Using Two-Factor Authentication
A part of having a strong password involves the implementation of two-factor or multi-factor authentication. This involves the use of two steps to access an account, as opposed to just using a password.
Accounts with two-factor authentication enabled will require a password and an additional factor to allow login, such as an OTP sent to a registered cell number or email ID, a security question, a personal detail, and so on; advanced mechanisms can employ the use of biometrics for the same. This extra security blanket is an effective measure against the hijacking of accounts, especially when it comes to financial information.
Sharing Need Not Be Caring!
If you’ve been paying attention, you know that sharing absolutely everything on the internet can actually be detrimental (‘The Circle’, anyone?). Share things selectively—your information, details, and your thoughts and opinions too.
There’ll be a plethora of chances to share your details, including harmless ones such as signing up for websites, emailers, newsletters, or filling out surveys—check the validity of anything that you sign up for and consider whether it really is necessary. Don’t fall for every “get a 10% discount on signing up” offer that you come across!
Additionally, don’t update your profiles with unnecessary personal information. Keep the informal professional and on a need-to-know basis.
The online community doesn’t need to know that you just went through a horrible break up or live on Curly Street in Meadowvale town—you wouldn’t randomly hand out this piece of information to strangers you meet on the subway, so there’s no need to hand it out to faceless strangers who may or may not be real.
To avoid being impersonated, having your identity stolen or giving folks clues to your passwords and details, and just plain being the victim of cybercrime, share stuff selectively.
Always Keep the Privacy Settings On
As mentioned earlier, a lot of people stand to gain from your personal information, including established social media sites and search engines (for the marketing value of your information). However, you can control, to some extent, how much and what information they take from you, thanks to your privacy settings.
These settings are even offered by major sites (though finding them may be a bit of a Herculean task—on purpose, generally!). Keep your privacy settings enabled at all times.
Saving Information on Shopping Sites
Most importantly, don’t save your financial information on shopping sites. Though it makes life easier, especially on sites you frequently shop on, to have your billing and shipping address and credit card details saved, it’s strongly advised against—if you can access it, so can someone else too, and quite easily.
Even sites with a strong SSL certificate (more on that later) can fall prey to hacking. There’s no foolproof way to protect your saved information on these sites, however, reputed the site/brand/company may be.
Read more here: How to Shop Online Safely
Keep Your Network Secure
At home or work, it’s easy to have access to a secure network—one that’s password-protected encrypts all data and is only accessible to those who have the password.
This keeps your information safe and your logins, too. However, when you don’t have access to such secure networks and desperately need Wi-Fi, public Wi-Fi can be really alluring.
The issue with public Wi-Fi networks is that they are unsecured, meaning that anyone within range can log on and there’s no way of knowing who or how many people are using the network.
Though this may seem very inclusive, it also means the presence of those with less-than-good intentions—hackers who are waiting to tap into the wealth of information that public Wi-Fi networks have (users’ data).
However, you don’t have to renounce public Wi-Fi completely—you can use a variety of tools and measures such as virtual private networks (VPN), use your own smartphone as a hotspot, avoid installing/downloading using public networks, turning off auto-connection features on your devices, and “forgetting” the network after you’re done using it, among others.
We highly recommend the VPN Provider NordVPN, we are using this provider ourselves and the benefits are amazing. After testing out almost all VPNs providers NordVPN came out as the best one.
While there are some free VPNs available, it is best to opt for a paid one to get maximum security and privacy. VPNs are not only great to maintain privacy but also enable you to access censored content or streaming services that are regionally blocked like Netflix, by hiding your actual network location.
When using the net, especially for sensitive transactions such as shopping or online banking, ensure that the site’s address/URL is “HTTPS” instead of just “HTTP”; the presence of the letter “s” indicates that the site is secure, more than just if it was “HTTP”. Additionally, you’ll find a tiny padlock symbol to the left of the site’s address—this tiny icon indicates that the website scrambles your data by encrypting it, meaning that others can’t access this data or steal it, making the site highly secure.
The “HTTPS” and the padlock symbol together are known as the site’s SSL Certification (Secure Sockets Layer Certification).
Though SSL Certification keeps information highly secure and almost impossible to crack, we’d still advise you to be wary of saving your information on every “HTTPS” site. Sites that don’t have SSL Certification are okay to browse but storing any sensitive information on them is an absolute no!
Another way to recognize shady sites is those that have bad grammar, inappropriate language or wrong spellings in the URL. Such sites are generally copycat versions of genuine sites, especially those that have distorted names of legitimate sites (such as ‘Amazin’ instead of ‘Amazon’, ‘H&J’ instead of ‘H&M’, ‘Bank of Amerika’ instead of ‘Bank of America’ and so on). Safe search tools, such as the McAfee Site Advisor, help you stay away from such sites.
Keep Your System Protected
A firewall is a great way to keep your system protected—this additional layer of security is a boon even when you’re using secure networks.
The firewall creates an effective barrier that keeps out any unauthorized presence on your gadgets. You can and should use a firewall on all your devices, even those that come under the “Internet of Things” (IoT) banner. Without a firewall, your device may be a very convenient entry point to all your information and all that’s on your system to hackers, especially in IoT devices, as they don’t come equipped with many security measures in the first place.
Keeping your system protected also means keeping it up to date. Keep all your software updated, especially your antivirus software, so you have the latest, most efficient security in place against threats on the internet. Keeping your automatic updates on will help.
However, remember never to upgrade your system on public Wi-Fi or fall for a system upgrade notice when on a public Wi-Fi network—you never know when this could be the work of hackers.
Don’t Click on Every Link!
Don’t fall for clickbait; don’t click carelessly—you never know when you’re letting in threats. Phishing and social engineering are increasing on a large scale, with users being tricked into giving away sensitive details that are used to commit fraud. Don’t open links in spam emails, or fall for “free” offers that you receive via email or on the phone, humor clickbait, and do unnecessary surveys and quizzes—these could all be traps waiting for your information.
All that glitters isn’t gold and something that sounds too good to be true often is! If something asks you for too much information, get away immediately!
Don’t Forget Your Other Devices
Remember, your computer/laptop is not the only device susceptible to cyber crime. Your phone and tablet are just as much at risk of being hotspots, falling prey to risky applications and harmful links that reach you via instant messaging or Whatsapp. Don’t click on links that seem suspicious, especially if they’re sent by unknown numbers.
Don’t download every app you see advertised—look at the rating and reviews before you do. Also, ensure you install security software on your cell phone and other devices.
Keep an Eye Out
Always apprise yourself of the latest scams that are taking place. Additionally, new threats keep coming up all the time, so you have to be continuously on top of things! Ransomware is currently a very significant threat, where hackers get a hold of your information and blackmail you for it.
Catfishing is another very real threat that just won’t subside; catfishing occurs when a fake online profile is set up, generally on dating sites or on social media pages, with the aim of taking money from unsuspecting victims.
Remember, catfishers will take a while to show their true colors—they’re capable of faking relationships for months, gaining the other person’s trust, and lowering their inhibitions before getting around to asking for the money. Users have been defrauded to the tune of $15,000 per victim on average!
To keep the catfishers at bay, don’t be seduced by popularity and accept every random friend request you get; even if you do, just for the numbers, don’t strike up a conversation or leave at the slightest sign of probing into your information—and then promptly proceed to block, or at the very least, unfriend. Never, ever transfer or send money to someone you haven’t met!
Always be on guard; always take precautions and be cautious. Be careful about which sites you visit and always double check what you’re sharing. Using security software that’s comprehensive is a great idea and keep your data always backed up—do it regularly as you never know when something can go wrong!
The internet is a tricky terrain to maneuver, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing or are unaware of all the risks that are present. Sure, the internet is a boon, but it can very easily turn into a bane, too.
As mentioned earlier, it’s a double-edged sword; don’t end up cutting yourself or letting someone else cut you. Keep yourself safe at all points by using the above-listed measures and you’ll find that you have a relatively more peaceful, worry-free online browsing experience!
Lorenzo has been using the internet for as long as he can remember. He was there for the early days of message boards, he watched social media take over, and he’s excited to see what comes next.