Top tips for keeping yourself safe online

Whether it be connecting with old friends, finding an easy dinner recipe, or purchasing that new item of clothing you’ve had your eye on, the internet has revolutionised our lives over the last twenty years.

At the click of a button, we can share experiences, have conversations, and learn from one another, without even having to leave the comfort of our own homes.

However, while many of us like to think of ourselves as ‘tech-savvy experts’, the reality is, there is still a lot more we can do to protect ourselves online.

With a multitude of users accessing the web every day, many of whom are working remotely from home, internet safety is more important now than ever before.

New research from Google New Zealand shows that seven in 10 (69 per cent) Kiwis are not always taking deliberate steps to improve their online security, despite one in five (20 per cent) having fallen victim to phishing or an online scam.

Ross Young, head of government affairs and public policy at Google New Zealand, is providing Kiwis with tips on how to best protect themselves online.

Young says, “While online security can seem confusing, or boring, the good news is that there are some very easy things people can do.”

Here are Ross’ top five tips for keeping yourself safe online.

Use a password manager

For most of us, passwords are both our frontline and only line of defence between the outside world and our private information.

Our codes tend to be some predictable variation of our cat’s name or favourite holiday season with a birthdate or exclamation mark at the end (if this is you, go change it now).

Often, we tend to forget this passcode and reset it to something even more elementary such as ‘12345’ to ensure we don’t forget it again. With only three in ten (31 per cent) Kiwis always using a different password for every account online, it is not surprising that most of us have amassed collections of online accounts, reusing those same unimaginative passwords repeatedly.

Password managers allow users to generate, manage and store all their passwords for applications and online services.

Not only does it assist in generating complex passwords, but it also stores the information in an encrypted database.

This saves you the effort of remembering bucketloads of logins and keeps your accounts secure by creating strong passwords which are near impossible to guess.

No more excuses for forgetting or reusing your codes when password managers have it all at the click of a button!

Turn on 2-Step Verification

Passwords are a lot easier to steal than you would imagine and unfortunately, it can often be out of our control.

With hackers, scammers and viruses lurking on the internet, it is important that you always have a backup plan.

2-Step verification (2sv) can help solve this problem by keeping out anyone who shouldn’t have access to your account.

On top of your username and password, 2-Step Verification requires users to provide a secondary piece of evidence to log in to their accounts.

Examples include receiving a prompt on another trusted device, a six-digit code randomly generated by an application, or even a separate physical security key.

If somebody manages to find out your password, they won’t be able to access your account with this alone.

They will also need physical access to your device to retrieve the 2-Step Verification code or accept the prompt, which is unlikely.

Adding this extra layer of protection can help make sure your personal emails and photos are kept private.

Always validate URLs and suspicious links

It may seem obvious, but when browsing the web or following links, it is essential that you validate the URLs.

Though it sounds fancy, a URL is nothing more than the unique information which makes up a web ‘address’ in the browser search bar.

‘Too good to be true’ promises of an all-expenses-paid overseas holiday or a ticket for ten thousand dollars are, often, a threat to your online security.

While Google blocks around 100 million fraudulent messages from entering inboxes globally each day, there is potential for dodgy links to make it through.

Ensuring the website, app, or link is legitimate is as simple as double double-checking the URL by hovering over the link or long-pressing the text on mobile.

Confirm that the URL begins with ‘https’, is spelt correctly or the sender email is something you recognise, before clicking through, and remember if something looks to good to be true, it probably is.

Make sure site connections are secure

Online security can be a daunting task to keep on top of.

While the internet continues to grow every day, so do the threats, becoming more and more challenging to identify.

While some users are more up to date with the latest trends and devices, some individuals are only entering the digital world for the first time.

To see whether a website is safe to visit, check the security info before browsing. If a “not secure” warning pops up when accessing a website, it is likely that any information sent and received on that page is unprotected and may be modified, read, or stolen.

If the URL is secure, the Chrome browser will display a grey fully locked icon in the URL field.

Treat “not secure” as a do not enter sign or find an alternative website if you’re unsure.

Double-check files before downloading

The vastness of the internet can be both exciting and overwhelming.

With what seems like an endless supply of things to read, buy, watch, and see, the internet makes for an entertaining place at the best of times.

However, all too often we get caught up in what we see on the web, disregarding safety measures and clicking on things we shouldn’t.

One of the biggest risks when navigating the internet is downloading files from suspicious websites.

While there is a lot of great content out there free for download, hackers capitalise on the fact that convenience and security are not often found next to one another.

To protect yourself, always make sure you are downloading from sites that are reputable and you trust.

Have a look for markers such as the URL, a physical address, reviews, phone numbers, or news coverage to verify the legitimacy of the website. In the same way, you wouldn’t let a stranger into your house, if an unfamiliar email address sends a downloadable attachment, it would be wise not to click on it before making the necessary checks.

Another step you should always take before downloading online files is scanning for viruses.

If you come across a suspicious attachment, use Chrome or Google Drive to open it.

They automatically scan the file and warn you if a virus is detected.

Online security should be just as important as any other safety measure taken in our daily lives.

Whether we are watching a TV show, maintaining social networks, or online banking, protecting ourselves on the internet should be a priority.

If you don’t want somebody snooping around in your private information, a mixture of these safety tips with some common sense can go a long way in keeping yourself safe online.

For more information, visit here.

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