The internet has revolutionised how we connect, learn, and conduct business. However, with this vast digital landscape comes inherent security risks. From data breaches to malware attacks, navigating the online world requires a proactive approach to safeguarding yourself and your information.

This guide explores essential cyber safety practices to empower you to navigate the digital age with confidence. We’ll delve into topics like strong password creation, recognising phishing attempts, utilising firewalls and antivirus software, and fostering safe online habits. By implementing these measures, you can significantly enhance your online security posture and protect yourself from potential threats.

What Is Cyber Safety?

Cyber safety is the means by which individuals and organisations reduce the risk of being affected by cybercrime. Its core function is to protect the devices we all use (smartphones, laptops, tablets, and computers) and the services we access online, both at home and work, from theft or damage. It’s also about preventing unauthorised access to the vast amounts of personal information we store on these devices and online.

Cyber safety is important because smartphones, computers, and the internet are now such a fundamental part of modern life that it’s difficult to imagine how we’d function without them. From online banking and shopping to email and social media, it’s more important than ever to take steps that can prevent cybercriminals from gaining access to our accounts, data, and devices.

6 Ways to Improve Your Online Security

Due to coronavirus, people are spending more time online this year. Explore the 6 Cyber Aware actions you can take to keep yourself and your family secure.

1. Creating Strong and Unique Passwords

Passwords are the gatekeepers to your online accounts. Weak passwords are like flimsy locks – easily picked and bypassed. Here’s how to create strong, unique passwords that significantly improve your online security:

  • Length is Key: The longer your password, the harder it is to crack. Experts recommend passwords at least 12 characters long, but 14 or more is even better.
  • Mix it Up: Don’t settle for simple dictionary words or easily guessable phrases like birthdays or pet names. Combine uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols for maximum strength.
  • Uniqueness is Essential: Resist the urge to reuse passwords across different accounts. If one account gets compromised, all your other accounts could be at risk.
  • Beyond the Keyboard: Consider incorporating special characters beyond standard letters and numbers. Many websites now allow punctuation marks and symbols like @, #, $ or %.

Remembering Complex Passwords: Let’s face it, remembering numerous complex passwords can be a challenge. Here’s where password managers come in. These are secure applications that store your passwords and can automatically fill them in when needed. Look for a reputable password manager with strong encryption to ensure your passwords are kept safe.

By following these steps, you can create a strong defence against unauthorised access to your online accounts. Remember, taking the time to create and manage strong passwords is a crucial step in protecting your online security.

2. Keeping Your Software Up-to-Date: Maintaining Strong Online Security

Just like regularly maintaining physical equipment, keeping your software up-to-date is essential for robust online security. Here’s why it’s crucial to update your operating system, applications, and firmware:

  • Security Patching: Software updates frequently address vulnerabilities discovered in the code. These vulnerabilities can be exploited by attackers to gain unauthorised access to your system or steal your data. Updating promptly ensures these vulnerabilities are fixed, effectively closing potential security gaps.
  • Improved Functionality: Updates often include not only security fixes but also performance enhancements and bug fixes. By keeping your software current, you benefit from a smoother running system and potentially new features offered by the developers.
  • Compatibility and Support: As technology evolves, older software versions may become incompatible with newer hardware or operating systems. Additionally, outdated software may no longer receive technical support from the developer. Updating ensures compatibility and allows you to continue receiving bug fixes and security patches in the future.

Making Updates a Habit

  • Enable Automatic Updates: Most operating systems and applications offer the option to enable automatic updates. This is a convenient way to ensure you always have the latest version installed.
  • Regular Manual Checks: Even with automatic updates enabled, it’s wise to periodically check for updates manually. This can help catch any updates that haven’t been set to auto-install.
  • Prioritise Critical Updates: Updates are sometimes categorised by importance. It’s crucial to prioritise installing critical updates as soon as possible, as they often address the most severe security vulnerabilities.

By establishing a routine for software updates, you can significantly reduce your risk of security breaches and ensure your system is operating at its best. Remember, keeping your software up-to-date is a key component of a strong online security strategy.

3. Scrutinise Links Before Clicking: Protecting Yourself Online

Exercising caution with links is a critical aspect of online security. Here’s why it’s important to carefully examine links before clicking on them in emails, texts, or social media posts:

  • Phishing Attacks: Malicious actors often use deceptive emails, texts, and social media posts containing links that appear legitimate. Clicking on such links can take you to phishing websites designed to steal your personal information or infect your device with malware.
  • Misleading Information: Links may not always lead to the content they seem to be associated with. Clicking could take you to irrelevant or potentially harmful websites.

Verifying Links Before Clicking

  • Hover Over the Link: Most email providers and web browsers allow you to see the actual destination URL by hovering your cursor over the link without clicking on it. This allows you to verify if the URL matches the displayed text and appears legitimate.
  • Be Wary of Shortened Links: Link-shortening services are sometimes used to shorten URLs. These shortened links can be difficult to assess for legitimacy. If you encounter a shortened link, avoid clicking on it unless you can verify the full destination URL.

By developing a habit of verifying links before clicking, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to phishing attacks or being directed to malicious websites. Remember, a cautious approach to links is essential for maintaining online security.

4. Enabling Two-Factor Authentication: An Added Layer of Security

Two-factor authentication (2FA), also known as two-step verification, is a powerful security measure that enhances the protection of your online accounts. By implementing 2FA, you add an extra layer of defence beyond your password. Here’s how it works:

What Is 2FA?

  • Two-factor authentication requires two separate forms of identification before granting access to your account.
  • The first factor is your password, which is something you know.
  • The second factor is a verification code, which is something you have or receive via a trusted device.

Why Use 2FA?

  • Mitigating Password Vulnerabilities: Even strong passwords can be compromised. 2FA ensures that even if your password is stolen, unauthorised access is thwarted.
  • Preventing Unauthorised Access: A second verification step adds an additional barrier, making it harder for attackers to breach your account.
  • Widespread Adoption: Many online services now offer 2FA, making it accessible and widely used.

5. Utilise a Firewall for Enhanced Security

A firewall acts as a security barrier between your device and the internet, monitoring incoming and outgoing data traffic. It functions by analysing each data packet, which is a small unit of information sent over a network. This analysis involves:

  • Source and Destination: The firewall checks the origin (source) of the data packet and its intended destination (address) on your device. This helps identify suspicious traffic, such as packets originating from unknown or untrusted sources.
  • Port Numbers: Network communication occurs through designated ports, similar to doorways on a building. The firewall examines the port number associated with the data packet. By restricting access to specific ports, the firewall can prevent unauthorised applications or services from establishing connections with your device.
  • Content Inspection (Optional): Some firewalls offer deeper inspection capabilities, examining the actual content within the data packets. This allows for more granular control, potentially blocking specific types of data or malicious code attempts.

6. Employ Antivirus and Anti-Malware Software for Proactive Protection

To actively defend your devices against malicious software (malware), consider using reputable antivirus and anti-malware software. These programs work together to provide a comprehensive security solution:

  • Antivirus Software: Antivirus software primarily focuses on preventing and detecting viruses. It functions by:
    • Maintaining an updated database of known viruses and other threats.
    • Scanning your device for suspicious files and activities that match these known threats.
    • Quarantining or removing detected threats to prevent them from harming your device.
  • Anti-Malware Software: Anti-malware software offers a broader scope of protection, encompassing various types of malware beyond just viruses. This can include spyware, ransomware, and other malicious programs. Anti-malware software typically employs methods similar to antivirus software but with a focus on a wider range of potential threats.

Benefits of Using Antivirus and Anti-Malware Software

  • Proactive Threat Detection: These programs can identify and address potential threats before they cause harm, offering a proactive approach to security.
  • Real-Time Protection: Many antivirus and anti-malware programs provide real-time protection, continuously monitoring your device for suspicious activity.
  • Reduced Risk of Data Loss or System Damage: These programs can help safeguard your data and minimise the risk of system damage caused by malicious software by preventing malware infections.

Choosing the Right Software

Several reputable antivirus and anti-malware software options are available. When making your selection, consider factors such as features offered, independent test results, and pricing. Additionally, some operating systems, like Windows 10 and later, come with built-in antivirus protection, eliminating the immediate need for a separate program.

In conclusion, cyber safety is an ongoing practice, requiring vigilance and adaptation as technology evolves. By incorporating the strategies outlined in this guide, you’ll gain valuable tools to navigate the digital world with confidence. Remember, even small steps like creating strong passwords and being cautious of suspicious links can significantly improve your online security. Stay informed, remain vigilant, and empower yourself to be a responsible and secure digital citizen. The internet holds a wealth of opportunities, and by prioritising cyber safety, you can unlock its full potential with peace of mind.