There are so many interesting things to discover online, but there are also times when the Internet can be a bit frightening. Same as in the outside world, it’s important to keep yourself safe and secure. Whether you’re a new web surfer or an old hand, it’s good to stay up to date on the best practices when it comes to sharing your data online and browsing in safety.
Don’t use idle passwords. Choosing passwords with 1234 is like locking your house with the key left in the lock. Instead, come up with a longer password that contains both letters and numbers/characters, preferably one that references something significant only to you; and one you don’t talk about frequently. For example, if the name of your childhood imaginary friend was Mister Giggles, swap out some of the letters for numbers and you can end up with a very nice password like M1s7r6igglz that only you understand.
When using a public wireless network, make sure to turn off file sharing and network discovery. These both put your files and system at risk for being opened by anyone on the wireless network, not just hackers. In Windows, these options can be found under Control Panel > Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center. In Mac OS X, they are under System Preferences > Sharing. If you are within range of public wireless networks but don’t need to be online, turn off your wireless capabilities altogether. On some devices, there is simply an on/off switch; on others, you will need to configure this yourself (ex. on a Mac, click the Wi-Fi icon and turn off AirPort).
Always check for secure transaction info. The best companies will have many security devices in place. You may see a gold lock at the bottom of the page to indicate a secure site. When giving any bank details or other information, make sure the connection is secure (URLs like this begin with https:// instead of http://) and the site is trustworthy. (Not every site which runs HTTPS or accepts payments is trustworthy, even if the connection is.)
Keep your eyes peeled for online scams. Beware of spoof email claiming to be from eBay, PayPal, or a bank or a company you trust asking for personal or sensitive information. This is called phishing. The e-mail may inform you that there is a problem with your account/password. There may be a link to click inside. Forward any of these e-mails to the company it claims to be sent from. They will confirm whether the e-mail you received was real or not. Also, bear in mind that e-mail programs like Yahoo!, MSN, and Gmail will never ask you for your e-mail password. Don’t fall for it.
Make sure you are using (and regularly updating) an anti-virus program, an anti-spyware program, and a firewall. You can use either the firewall that comes standard with your operating system or a third-party software program to your liking. Don’t use two firewalls at once, as they can interfere with / weaken one another.