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The Internet can be a great tool for sharing information, connecting with new people, and accessing products and services you wouldn’t be able to otherwise – but only if you (and those you care about) know how to do so safely.
Growing up, my parents set ground rules for what I could and couldn’t do when they turned me loose to play outside with my friends.
Kids today have a very different world to explore, with its own set of rules and risks – but the difference between our parents and us? We can put up safeguard and set limits that are much harder for kids to ignore.
Online risks have grown to include much more than just creepy people lurking on message boards or irritating malware disguised as a harmless pop-up. While many of us are primarily concerned about our children’s activities online, the truth is that everyone is at risk.
The 4 Types of Risks To Online Safety
What are some of the risks to our personal safety online? Coleman Technologies groups them into four areas:
All of you know the saying from reading the newspaper or watching TV that “just because it’s in the news doesn’t mean it’s all true”. Well, this same adage applies online because these days, anyone with an Internet connection can be a “citizen journalist” through blogs and social networks.
These are risks we’re exposed to through our interactions online:
- Cyberbullying, which is using the Internet for repeated unwanted or cruel behavior against someone, opens the door to 24-hour harassment. Anyone can experience online bullying, but it’s of particular concern among children.
- Cyber harassment is the adult equivalent of cyberbullying.
- Child predators can also make unwanted contact with children. Although there is no doubt that this is the worst kind of contact (and makes the news most often), it’s also the most infrequent form.
The risks of conduct have to do with what we do and say online as well as what others post about us. Our reputations (and how others view us) are shaped by our actions, interactions, and what we post on social networks, in games and virtual worlds, or on mobile phones.
Information about us, particularly about our online preferences and habits, is a valuable commodity to people and businesses, whether trustworthy or not.
So the risks of e-commerce have to do with an invasion of privacy or identity theft when unsavory people get access to sensitive, personal information like bank account, credit card, or social security numbers.
What Can You Do To Stay Safe?
With all these risks out there threatening the user’s safety, what can you do to protect yourself, your family, and your staff?
DEFEND YOUR COMPUTER
Cybercriminals work relentlessly to seize control of your computer, spread spam, or spy on your online activities—ultimately in an attempt to steal personal information or money.
Criminals use two broad strategies to try to break through a computer’s defenses:
- They install malicious software on computers that haven’t been updated. This can happen in a couple of ways. They can exploit older weaknesses in the software, or they can break into accounts guarded by simple passwords
- They also try to trick people into installing their malware, including adware, worms, and keystroke loggers (software that can spy on what you type—passwords, usernames, and so on).
In order to protect your computer (and anyone using it) against these cybercriminals, make sure to follow these two tips:
- Strengthen your computer’s defenses: Be sure to leave your firewall turned on at all times, as well as install robust antivirus and antispyware solutions (such as those offered by Microsoft® Security Essentials). Be sure to keep these solutions regularly updated and patched – it’s as easy as setting them to auto-update, and clicking “Update” whenever prompted.
- Train yourself to act cautiously to avoid downloading malware. It’s about thinking before you click something – never download a file, whether online or as an attachment in an email if you’re unsure of the source. It’s always better to check with the sender to confirm, prior to downloading or opening a suspect file.
PROTECT SENSITIVE INFORMATION
Your sensitive information — passwords, SIN, birth date, mother’s maiden name, etc. — is valuable to cybercriminals, and they work hard to get their hands on it. Don’t make it any easier for them.
- Only use web pages with URLs that begin with “https” – if it’s missing that “s”, then it’s not secure.
- Save your online baking for home – don’t perform any sensitive financial transactions on free, public wi-fi, where it’s easier for hackers to gain access.
- Avoid scams – don’t fall for emails that want your information and have the following characteristics:
- Generic salutations (“Dear Account Holder”)
- Sender email addresses that don’t correspond to the organization they’re speaking on behalf of
- Alarmist tone, or a sense of urgency
- Misspellings, poor grammar, and typos
CREATE STRONG PASSWORDS AND KEEP THEM SECRET
The sad fact is that the most commonly used password worldwide is “password”. You can do better.
- To make passwords strong, use long phrases or sentences that mix capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols.
- Start with something like Strong passwords are safer. With a little tinkering, you can come up with a password that is very strong and yet memorable, like the one you see on the screen: Str0ngpassw0rdsRsafer!
- Don’t use the same password everywhere. If it’s stolen or inadequately protected by the site, all the accounts it protects are at risk.
- Don’t share your passwords with anyone or be tricked into giving them away. Many account takeovers occur because the owner disclosed the password.
TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR ONLINE REPUTATION
Given how quickly social media platforms rise, fall, and change, you’d be surprised how much about you is out there. That’s not to mention news stories, school information, and other content that may have been published about you years ago. Are you sure it paints the right picture?
- Discover what is on the Internet about you. Use multiple search engines and all variations of your name. Search for images as well as text. Review what others have posted about you in comments, pictures, or videos. Explore blogs, personal pages on social networks, and photosharing sites.
- Then evaluate the story that information tells. Because information online is searchable, often permanent, and may be seen by anyone on the Internet, ask yourself some questions. Your answers are important—they may determine what personal information you decide to share.
- Ask yourself these questions: Does it reflect the reputation you want to have? Is it accurate? If not, what should be deleted or corrected? Do you need more than one online profile—whether professional, personal or for an area of interest like a hobby or volunteer work?
- Next, take steps to protect your reputation. Think about what you are posting and how it will reflect on your reputation. Talk with friends about what you do and do not want to be shared. Ask them to remove anything you don’t want to be disclosed.
- Cultivate your reputation. Be proactive about sharing online the positive things you do. For example, link anything you publish to your name. If you find information about yourself that doesn’t fit the reputation you want to uphold, take steps to restore your online reputation. In a respectful way, ask the person who posted it to remove it or correct an error. If the person doesn’t respond or refuses to help, ask the site administrator to remove the digital damage.
USE SOCIAL MEDIA NETWORKS MORE SAFELY
Use Settings or Options features to help you:
- Manage who can view your profile and how public or private you want your profile to be.
- Control how people can search for you—for example, by high school, current town, or employer.
- Block any unwanted access.
- And as your preferences change over time, check those settings and modify them as needed.
Be selective about accepting new friends.
- Don’t accept requests from people you don’t know. Think before accepting colleagues or acquaintances, too.
- Periodically reassess who has access to your account. Friends can change over time.
- Review what your friends write about you. Make sure they don’t share sensitive information. It’s okay to ask someone to remove anything that you don’t want to be disclosed.
Think before you post something online. Remember that what you post may be seen by anyone and once it is out there, it’s probably out there for good. So be sure to:
- Keep to yourself details that could be used to identify you or your location—home address, phone, account numbers, etc.
- Never share your whereabouts. For example, wait to share vacation details until after you come back. No one needs to know that you are not at your house at a specific time.
- Pay attention to what you post about others (including pictures), being careful not share their sensitive personal information.
KEEP KIDS SAFE ONLINE
Whether you have children, grandkids, or nieces and nephews, you’re in the best position to make decisions about what is appropriate for children and to talk to them about online safety. Kids may know the technology better than you do, but you have the wisdom to show them how to make smart choices and to help them use it safely.
Set clear and age-appropriate rules for Internet use. Make online safety a family effort, a mix of guidance and monitoring.
- Negotiate clear guidelines for using the web and online games that fit your kid’s maturity and your family’s values. Discuss what sites are appropriate, what information can and can’t be shared, and the boundaries for communicating with others through gaming, IM, mobile phones, and on social sites.
- For the younger ones, keep the gaming consoles and computers (especially those with webcams) in a central location at home and restrict access to websites with offensive content.
- Teach kids to keep personal information private. Help all kids choose email addresses and account names that are not suggestive. Teach them how to create strong passwords and not to share them with anyone but you.
- Remind kids to treat others as they would like to be treated—to be kind and honest online.
- Teach kids safe and responsible computer use—to be careful about accepting new friends and not to open attachments or click links with so-called “free offers.”
Keep communication open. Have regular discussions with kids about their online activities—who their friends are, the games they play, and the sites they visit. This is also a great way to stay involved in their lives and learn about their interests.
- If there’s a problem, teach kids to trust their instincts. Ask them to come to you and you’ll do what you can to help solve it. It’s important to make sure kids know that you won’t punish them or take away their privileges or devices if they come to you.
- Use family safety software as appropriate and set specifically for each child to help minimize the safety risks. For example, Microsoft has built family safety controls into all home editions of Windows Vista® and Windows 7.
Using the Parental Controls panel, you can:
- Create separate accounts for each family member.
- Specify which websites kids can visit and which programs they can use.
- Get detailed activity reports to look for potentially inappropriate sites the child might be visiting.
- Limit access to PC software games based on title, content, or rating.
- And last, you can specify when and how long kids can use the computer.
Investing a little time and effort in best practices for online security now will help you avoid a number of risks and pitfalls in the future. Whether it’s just for yourself, or for your family and friends, staying safe online can save you a lot of stress and trouble.
For more information about cybersecurity best practices, get in touch with Coleman Technologies at (604) 513-9428 or send us an email to email@example.com.