Ways-Be-Safe-OnlineThings are getting downright ridiculous. On the one hand, the internet has become so ubiquitous that it’s now next to impossible to function without it. Work, shopping, banking, recreation, etc., every aspect of life seems to tie back into the web in one way or another. On the other hand, we’re constantly being bombarded with news stories detailing just how dangerous the internet can be. From predators and cyberbullies, to malware and direct hacker attacks, cyberspace doesn’t seem like the kind of place one would even want to visit, much less trust with our personal information. Still, it seems pretty obvious that it’s here to stay. The good news is that there are things that you can do to protect yourself and your sensitive data online. Here are seven tips to help you do just that.

1. Keep your antivirus software up to date

It would be nice if we could simply install an effective antivirus program and be done with it. However, the reality is that the threats that your security program is designed to combat are constantly changing. If you neglect to regularly update your virus protection, then new threats will have an easy time compromising your system. Yes, it’s annoying to have to update and restart your computer several times a year, but it’s even more annoying to lose your personal information and ruin your computer as a result of malware invasion.

2. Never trust anyone you meet online

The term “Cyber-predator” refers to anyone who uses the internet to locate, lure, and take advantage of or harass potential victims. Most cyber predators target children and teens, but adults can also become victims of this form or abuse. As such, it’s important to remember to never trust anyone that you meet online. The anonymity offered by the internet allows users to represent themselves in any way that they would like. This makes it easy for predators to seduce potential prey into giving out personal information, money, or even into performing sexual acts. Remember, the people you meet online are strangers, no matter how many messages you’ve exchanged over the web. Treat them as you would any other potentially dangerous stranger, and be wary of their intentions.

3. Be careful with email

Email addresses are seldom kept secret, which is why they’re so often used by cybercriminals in scams and spam-attacks. When it comes to email, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Make sure that your account has a spam filter and that it is activated. Also, be sure to authenticate any official-looking emails before you respond to them. Many criminals will send out emails claiming to be a users bank or other trusted institution, requesting that the user supply their personal information for one reason or another. Many of these emails even provide links to fake websites that can be used to steal your data. If you receive an email like this, call your bank directly to verify. Lastly, many scam artists will send out emails featuring offers that seem to good to be true. Never give out personal information or money in response to an email, no matter what that email may be promising.

4. Use strong passwords

When creating a password, make sure that it is one that cannot be easily guessed. It should include more than eight characters, and be interspersed with numbers and symbols. The best passwords are ones that are absolute gibberish, as opposed to actual words that could be guessed. Also, if you are asked to provide an answer to a hint question, choose one that wouldn’t be easy for a criminal to find the answer to. Your mother’s maiden name is probably on the public record, so don’t trust your security to it remaining secret. Lastly, be sure to use different passwords for different sites, so that if one becomes compromised, the others won’t fall as well.

5. Be careful with social media

Many social media sites will pressure you to supply a large amount of personal information in your profile. Don’t do it. Much of that information becomes directly visible to anyone who might think to look, and even supposedly “secure” data can become compromised if the social media site is attacked.

6. Shop smart

With the holidays approaching, many of us will be doing a great deal of shopping online. Protect yourself by only shopping on secure sites (ones that have an “S” after the HTTP in the address bar). When making a purchase, use either a credit card or a service such as PayPal, rather than debit. Pay services act as intermediaries between the site and your account, which means that your card number remains safe. Credit cards are also safer than debit, because they aren’t directly linked to your account. Banks will even be willing to reimburse you for fraudulent credit charges (with a liability cap of $50) provided that you report the issue within two days. With debit cards, a criminal will likely just clean out your entire account before you even notice. Also, never give out more personal data when shopping than is necessary. There’s no reason why any commerce site would need your phone number or social security number, so don’t give them out.

7. Surf smart

Often times, simply visiting a website is enough to compromise your data and your system. Most online security programs come with a built-in filter, or even a site rating that can help determine the safety of a particular site. Many search engines will also allow you set the level of safety in a particular search. Beyond these, it’s just a matter of being careful what links you click on and what strings you use when performing searches (for example, if you want information about home automation, a search for "Vivint reviews" will probably take you exactly where you want to go, because it’s specific; a search for “home automation stuff” might bring back less relevant results) Try to avoid unfamiliar sites. If in doubt, copy the address in the link and check it with Comodo Web Inspector and Zulu URL Risk Analyzer. These should help you identify dangerous sites before you visit them. Lastly, be sure to always monitor your children’s activity on the internet to make sure that they aren’t visiting dangerous or inappropriate sites. Placing the home computer in a public place can help you keep an eye on their internet activity.