The access we have to the internet today is thrilling. The information you can accumulate with one single Google search surpasses anything you could have collected from a year of studying every book available. Yet this awe-inducing potential also introduces the many cyber risks we have become acquainted with – identity theft, computer-clearing viruses, loss of privacy. Protecting yourself online can seem like a daunting task, but there are a few simple ways to greatly limit the risk.
CHOOSE WHAT YOU SHARE CAREFULLY.
There is only one way to be certain that somebody across the globe doesn’t have access to your personal information: don’t share it online. When writing emails to a family member or updating your status on Facebook, review what you are saying. Imagine that a stranger is reading your words – is there anything they would learn that makes you feel uncomfortable or nervous? If you see any personal information that you wouldn’t want a stranger to access or use, the best bet is to erase it.
Social networking sites such as Facebook also give you the option of tailoring your privacy settings. You can choose, for example, which aspects of your profile can be viewed by the public, by your friends, and by friends of your friends. Change your settings so that all of your posts, pictures, and personal information are only accessed by your confirmed friends.
Creating a Facebook alias – complete with a false name, altered picture, and fabricated contact information – isn’t necessary. Just be comfortable with and conscious of what you are offering out to cyberspace, and keep in mind that we cannot always control who finds what we share.
PROTECT YOUR ACCOUNTS WITH STRONG PASSWORDS.
If your name is Joe, and the password to your online VISA statements, personal email account, and Facebook profile is “joe”, than you’re making it far too easy on internet criminals. One of the most important ways to protect yourself and your personal information online is to make sure that you lock up all of your accounts with strong, varying passwords.
Try not to use the exact same password for a variety of sites that store your information, such as your bank account and your Facebook login. When you create a password, choose something that is memorable but not easily guessed; don’t include your wedding anniversary, the name of your daughter, or the name of your street, for example. Instead, use your favourite food or the name of your childhood pet – a personal memento that an acquaintance or stranger would not be able to think of. Once you choose the word or phrase, mix in numbers and symbols, use capital letters, and increase the length to create a more intricate version. Transform “Spot”, the easy-to-remember name of your dog when you were 6, into “$p0tTh3d0G”, and you’ve created a password that you can easily recall but is incredibly difficult to guess.
INSTALL AND USE ANTI-VIRUS OR ANTI-MALWARE SOFTWARE.
Viruses and malware are some of the risks that internet technologies have introduced. Visiting an unsafe website, opening an infected file, or clicking on a fake link in an email can all infect your computer. This can lead to a loss of security, giving hackers a way to access the personal information you have stored on your computer, or can negatively impact your computer’s performance and capabilities. To protect yourself and your computer from these risks, it is important to ensure that you have reliable anti-virus or anti-malware software.
Some systems come complete with an anti-virus or anti-malware tool, such as “Windows Defender”, a component of Microsoft Windows 7. Others can be downloaded from the internet for free, such as Avast! Antivirus. There are also options that can be purchased, and offer the highest level of security, such as Norton. Each of these options will block any harmful file or website they detect, and will perform periodic scans of your computer looking for risks or infections. Make sure you choose your software carefully, and evaluate it to ensure it is well regarded and suits your specific needs.
USE SAFE WI-FI INTERNET CONNECTIONS.
Wireless internet connections have become the norm. Many use a wireless connection in their homes, often password protecting access, while establishments such as universities or coffee shops offer free Wi-Fi access. Wi-Fi connections that are not password-protected, however, do pose a new risk – on this unprotected connection, outsiders are often able to track your activity or hack into your system.
To protect yourself, choose safe Wi-Fi connections. A connection established by a reputable establishment, such as a university, offers more security than one where you cannot trace the source. Even when on a trusted public Wi-Fi connection, avoid especially personal business, such as using your credit card information to make an online purchase. As well, set the internet connection settings on your computer to “Public”, rather than “Home” or “Work”. Each of these has different settings; choose public for an outside Wi-Fi connection that you do not control, which will automatically introduce some of the safeguards on your computer for this situation and reduce the risk.