Online Safety: A Beginners Guide

Learning how to stay safe online is an essential life skill in our hyper-connected world. The internet is a vast roaming wilderness that provides infinite opportunities in the form of information/education, connectivity and productivity tools, shopping and entertainment options. It can equally be a very dark place, and expose you to unnecessary risks which can disrupt your computer, and put your personal information at risk.

But with a little know how you can reap all the benefits and avoid many of the pitfalls – so let us take a walk on the wild side and find out how to stay safe on-line.

Let me start by saying that this is not a comprehensive guide to everything bad in the online world, we wouldn’t want to scare you, but it does cover some of the major threats and will evolve over time.

Malicious Software

By far the biggest threat to your online safety is a Malicious Software (Malware) infection. Malware is easy to contract, and is difficult to shake off.

Malware infections can be very distressing if you don’t know what is going on. Some common signs to look out for are an unusually slow-running computer, irritating popup adverts and notifications, or your contacts receiving emails from you that you did not send. Left unchecked, malware infections can fester, grow and spread so, if you suspect you have a virus or malware infection it is important to get help and have your system professionally cleaned.

We have a regular stream of customers asking for assistance with the more visible symptoms of Malware infections.  In most cases it is people being bombarded with annoying popups / notifications asking them to: complete surveys, telling them they have won an iPad, or their PC has a raft of non-existent errors and to click on a link download and to fix it.  But not all malware is as visible, and typically the stuff with more nefarious purposes lurks unseen.

8 Online Safety Tips

  • Backup your data regularly
  • Use good/properly configured internet security
  • Use a Site Adviser to steer you away from bad sites
  • Install an Adblocker to reduce the risk of rogue adverts
  • Be careful where you click to avoid spoof sites
  • Avoid file sharing sites
  • Screen your downloads, and only download from trusted sources
  • Do not connect your device to unsecure WIFI networks

online safety - phishing and hacking

Watch out for Phishing (NOT Fishing)

One of the other big threats to your online security is Phishing Scams. This is where a malicious actor sends fraudulent emails masquerading as a reputable company or service provider in order to get people to reveal personal information, such as passwords and credit card numbers.

Stay Safe and Protect Your Information

So how do you ensure your online safety? Let me start with the bad news. If your computer, tablet or phone is connected to the internet then you can never be 100% safe.

The Good news is there are simple steps you can take to significantly reduce your risks and improve online safety.

Be sceptical and keep your eyes open

When it comes to Malware and Phishing, ensuring your online safety is often as simple as running decent Internet Security, and maintaining a healthy scepticism. In addition, be aware that:

  • Malware is often contracted by downloading/opening files / programs or infected Email attachments, or by clicking bad links on a Website, or in an Email.
  • You can also contract Malware from hackers / bad actors exploiting a vulnerability in a program or operating system, or via infected USB thumb drives / disks.
  • Pop-up ads telling you that: you’ve won something, or that your PC has problems are a scam – Ignore them and better yet install an ad-blocker to block unwanted ads
  • Watch for emails making outrageous claims / offers. Or emails pretending to be from your bank or service provider (e.g. Netflix, iTunes, Telstra etc.). These emails often want you to reset your password, or verify your account, via a link. Best solution for this type of email is to mark it as SPAM, and delete it. NEVER CLICK THE LINK OR OPEN THE ATTACHMENTS on this type of mail.
  • Never click links in an email without first verifying the destination by hovering over the link.
  • Do not provide personally Identifiable Information (PII) such as name, address, DOB to an untrusted site.
  • Be on the lookout for Technical Support Scams. If someone approaches you out of the blue by phone, email or a website popup offering remote support – do not allow them to connect to your computer. You can read more about Technical Support Scams here
  • Your bank, will NEVER ask you to click on a link or provide Personally Identifiable Information, via an email.

Guard the keys to the Kingdom

Some additional common-sense hints to help maintain online safety include:

  • If you suspect a Malware infection, avoid: internet banking, on-line purchasing, or logging in to systems using the infected computer. Notify your bank, follow their advice, and get your computer professionally cleaned ASAP.
  • Use a different, complex, password with each of your online accounts (e.g. banking, PayPal, email, online merchants). If you have a lot of passwords, a dedicated password manager such as Dashlane or LastPass can help.
  • Any computer, tablet, smartphone connected to the internet should have robust Internet Security Software installed. Anti-virus alone is not enough.

Online safety is largely about common sense and ensuring you have the right protections in place. If something looks to good to be true, it likely is. Even if you think your system is clean it is worth booking in for an annual computer health-check to identify and resolve any underlying problems; particularly if your computer is running slow.

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