I think I speak for most of us when we often neglect or play down the effects of our internet security.
But it is not something that should be overlooked and the statistics are shocking to say the least.
According the BBC, over £190,000 is lost every day to victims of fraud in the UK. With over a third of those being victim to some form of social media and email account hacking.
According to the ONS social media and email hacking rose by 55% last year alone.
However, anyone who has read the statistics and now wants to live on a farm in the middle of nowhere, fear not.
We’ll go over 10 simple steps you can take to minimise internet security risks. Many of these are free and easy to implement and I learned the hard way just how important these steps can be.
Let’s dive in.
Table of Contents
Change Social Media Passwords
Like we mentioned in the intro, social media and email hacking is up by over 50% in the last year and a really actionable way to minimise security risks is to change your passwords and change them regularly. This can be as simple as setting a reminder on your phone to change them once or twice a month.
That alone will help massively.
And make sure they’re all different.
Not all of us have all of the social channels but the majority of us will have an email and either a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account. Even a TikTok account but I’d run a country mile from that company and app as soon as you can.
But what happens if you have 5 of more passwords that you want to change twice a month? Unless your nickname is ‘Rain Man’ then you’ll either get frustrated and stop changing your passwords or you’ll write them down on a bit of paper and never find them again until you move out.
If that sounds like you then you’ll enjoy the next section.
Use varied passwords
I used to go to school with a friend of mine who set his school computer password to ‘yes’ and he thought he was the smartest kid in town because he would never forget it.
Now, most of us aren’t that bad but the details provided to us by the NCSC in 2019 show us just how lax we are when it comes to varied passwords:
If your password for your email address is ‘password’ then you need to take a long hard look at yourself…
But surely there must be an easier solution to writing down or trying to remember multiple complex passwords every time I need to log in to Facebook?
Enter the Password Manager.
Password managers make it simple and easy to create strong and varied passwords across all of your devices. Currently, I use Keeper, which I’ll be writing a review on shortly and works out at around £2 per month. They offer a 30-day free trial so you have plenty of time to really find out if you like the service they provide.
VPNs are your friend
Another term you have probably seen recently is VPN. It stands for Virtual Private Network and should be the new norm for personal online security. In essence, it masks your IP address so bad actors can’t see any traffic coming to or from your computer, laptop or tablet.
Especially useful in places like coffee shops or airports where public WI-FI is suspect, it’s another step you can take to ensure anonymity and online safety.
Many VPNs offer advanced features like kill-switches and the ability to stream geo-blocked content from the US but online safety is their bread and butter.
There are plenty of options out there but a good place to start would be ProtonVPN who have the best free version available.
Beware of Phishing attacks
Phishing attacks are nasty and the fraudsters who use them are particularly awful as they exploit the elderly and vulnerable. But anyone can be a victim of a Phishing attack due to the increased sophistication we’re seeing more and more regularly, as my girlfriend found out recently with the Amazon MusicKey email.
But there’s ways to reduce the risk.
One way is to just simply not open emails that look even slightly suspicious. Especially when the email has a sense of urgency about taxes or something similar, its more than likely a scam. But sometimes even that isn’t as easy as it looks.
A good rule is to make sure you double check the opening of the email and if it starts with ‘Hello dear’ as a lot of them do, bin it.
Also, check the footer as there’s usually a key indicator somewhere that the email may not be legit.
If you do suspect something even a quick google search can let you know whether the sending has been flagged for suspicious activity.
There’s plenty of anti-phishing software out there but as long as you get into the habit of questioning everything that looks suspect then you should be fine.
Practice safe browsing
We’ve all seen them. The lure of a free laptop or free holiday in the Bahamas is tempting even for the best of us but in the same way you wouldn’t walk through a bad neighbourhood, you should stay away from questionable websites.
A missing SSL key is the first indicator something might not be right.
For those who don’t know, SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and simply means the data sent to and from the website you’re browsing is encrypted. You may have noticed an extra S in the URL displaying HTTPS rather than just HTTP.
Modern smartphones and laptops usually highlight when a website is missing this protection but as a rule of thumb, if it doesn’t have it, don’t visit the site.
Be careful what you download
It’s no secret that fraudsters are getting better at disguising malicious intent and it’s so important to double check anything that you’re about to download.
A great free tool to use is Virus Total by Google. It scans any file or URL for Malware or suspicious files and shares them with the online community.
A free tool by Google themselves that lets you check whether or not a file you’re about to download is compromised? What’s not to love.
Keep antivirus software up to date
This should be a no-brainer. You can’t expect to be protected when you have out of date antivirus software. There’s plenty of decent free antivirus systems like Kaspersky and Avast out there so make sure you have one and you keep it up to date.
Definitely don’t keep setting the updates for later in the week…
Back up your data
This is an important one and one many people overlook. From losing cute pictures of your dog or family photos to losing important bank details or confidential information. Backing up your data is vital. Here’s the 3 step system:
- Make copies of your data
- Select the hardware or method to store your data
- Safely store the backup device that holds your copied files
You can pick up external hard drives on Amazon for next to nothing these days so there’s every reason to get one if you never want to lose what you can’t afford to.
Use Anti malware software
It’s not just anti-virus software that you should have but anti malware software as well. Used to detect, prevent and stop malicious malware from corrupting your smart devices it’s another great step you can take to be secure online and minimise security risks.
Again, there’s plenty of great free options out there including Malwarebytes so, you have no reason not to be protected.
Be careful what you post online
This is aimed more at the young adults among us but posting that questionable picture of you on a night out may seem like the best idea in the world but consider what the first thing future employers now do?
Maybe best to keep those between friends.
Bonus resource - Have I Been Pwned
Have I Been Pwned is a website that allows you to search your email address to see if it’s been involved in a data breach. It’s a great resource that tells you exactly which company was involved and if you need to change your email address straight away.
Let me know in the comments below which one you’ll be implementing first.
Stay safe out there.