19 ways to stay safe online and keep internet threats at a bay
The internet – arguably the best platform of great fun has now transformed and become part of human life. Interestingly, it has become so much helpful that most businesses are now executed online.
Unfortunately, as helpful as the internet can be, there are a plethora of risks that are associated with it.
With scams, hacks, malware, and many other internet threats expanding these days rapidly, the web is seemingly turning to look like a dangerous place – which, to some level, it is.
Some companies have raised their alert levels to keep you safe online by deploying some security features, but still, you have to do so much from your side to ensure total security.
Therefore, it means that when you set your foot online, you should be aware of the dangers as much as you get excited about the cool things.
The reason is simple, if an attacker gets hold of your personal information, a lot of damage will more likely come your way.
However, the good news, while the internet seemingly looks like a jungle of a million threats, you can still easily protect your online privacy with a plethora of easy ways. This article explains them all to you.
Ways to stay safe online
Perhaps, you may be thinking that protecting your online identity, personal devices, and internet activities could dig deep into your pocket.
However, most of the tips would cost you nothing but merely common sense. Now, without any further ado, here are the ways that will help you protect internet privacy;
1. Make use of a VPN
VPNs are probably one of the top ways to protect your privacy online as they enable you to stay anonymous throughout your browsing sessions.
A VPN works by connecting the users to the internet via another server (which is a virtual server for the user).
That connection then gets encrypted by the VPN service provider who has set up the VPN for its subscriber.
As the VPN makes your internet traffic to go through a secure tunnel (the encrypted connection), snooping eyes online such as spammers, hackers or governments cannot obtain your data.
And, even if they succeed in infiltrating the tunnel, thanks to the encryption that VPNs use, whatever is being sent over the web won’t be visible to them to read.
A VPN is your best line of defense whenever you go online, especially when you are at a public place, or worse, using a WiFi connection.
Anything for free is all that most folks are looking for, and when you get to any free internet connection, your mind almost switches automatically to pull out your device and connect.
For instance, you’re just taking coffee, and you connect to a free WiFi available without having any idea about the security risks on such a connection.
It’s in such places that attackers target to snoop into your device without you even knowing it and may steal your significant information.
Therefore, if you have to connect to such free WiFi networks, you should ensure that you have the best Virtual Private Network (VPN) already installed on your phone.
A quality VPN such as ExpressVPN will encrypt your internet traffic and route it via the server of the company’s VPN, meaning no one will be able to snoop on your data, not even the owner of the free Wi-Fi.
Moreover, a VPN hides your IP address, which blocks the big brothers from monitoring and identifying your location.
Furthermore, it will help you to unlock online content that could otherwise be blocked in your country.
2. Use unique password for each website
Passwords usually get us to various sites and accounts. Most folks use a single password over several accounts online.
What reusing passwords mean is that if an attacker gets hold of your password, then it’s common sense that they will try it with your other accounts, and your guess is as good as mine what they can do.
Therefore, to ensure that you don’t fall victim to such scenarios, you should always create a strong as well as a unique password for each of your online accounts.
Perhaps, you’ve heard it before, but the best way to keep personal, as well as financial information safe, is by creating complex passwords for every critical account.
Also, you should opt with using a secure password manager such as LastPass to help you create and store your passwords. The only thing you’ll need to remember is the master password to the password manager itself.
After logging into the password manager, you can then access all your other online accounts automatically.
Therefore, it saves a lot of time that you could have spent typing logins to various accounts leave alone the hassle of resetting forgotten passwords.
3. Use the two-factor authentication
Another effective way with which you can ensure to stay safe online is by using two-factor authentication (commonly referred to as 2FA).
With 2FA, a user basically sets up another layer of authentication in addition to the username and password details when logging into accounts.
As much as two-factor authentication can sometimes be a pain, it surely makes accounts more secure.
Therefore, if your service provider offers two-factor authentication, then you should enable it.
For instance, some online services such as Dropbox, Evernote, and Gmail provide two-factor authentication.
This feature works in that it verifies identity by using at least two different forms of authentication, like something you have, something you are, or something you know. You can also call it multi-factor authentification.
Using a password for authentication will mean that if your account password is leaked, then your account will need another layer of identity, making two-factor authentication for passwords managers a must-have.
4. Install an up-to-date antivirus
As simple as it may look, an antivirus provides so much protection than you may think. It will protect you against a plethora of malicious software.
Most folks set their antivirus protection and let it do its thing in the background.
However, once your antivirus is installed, you should have a regular check on it to make sure it’s kept up-to-date.
Also, most of the antivirus utilities will show a green banner or icon whenever everything is hunky-dory.
Still, when you realize that it’s showing red or yellow, then you should immediately take the steps asked in it to get back things on track.
Unfortunately, most folks depend on Windows Defender to provide protection, which it does to some extent.
But to stay a notch higher in protecting your online privacy, you should ensure that you install a third-party antivirus solution.
Before you go and pick a full security suite or a simple antivirus, remember that you’ll always need to renew it each year.
Also, if your antivirus lacks ransomware protection, then consider adding another layer of protection by installing a ransomware protection tool such as the Kaspersky Anti-Ransomware.
5. Understand the installed security tools
You probably may have installed excellent apps (or did settings) in your device to increase your protection.
But how well do you understand how they work? Have you even actively tried them out?
Now, any app or setting you have in your device will be of help only if you know how to use them correctly.
For instance, your smartphone may include an option to help you find it if you lose it, which you may have turned on. But do you know how to use it if you’re required to?
Moreover, your antivirus could do much more; you only need to check its detection settings to ensure that it’s configured to help block annoyances.
Therefore, you should always understand how an app you install works to make sure that it’s active to perform its functions in the best way it’s supposed.
6. Clear your browser cache regularly
Your cache could know too much about you than you can imagine.
Saved searches, web history, and saved cookies, could be revealing your home address, some family information, as well as other personal information.
Therefore, to ensure that you don’t leave traces behind online, ensure that you delete browser cookies as well as clear the browser history regularly.
You can choose the elements of browser data that you feel should be deleted that may reveal what you don’t what to be watched.
7. Do not consider passcodes as optional anymore
Ensure that you apply passcode locks where they are available, even if it’s optional. Your device could be having a lot of personal information that going without a passcode could come to haunt you.
Some devices will offer you only a four-digit PIN by default, which of course, you’re not supposed to settle for; instead, you should use biometric authentication and if possible go with setting a stronger passcode.
8. Have different emails for various accounts
Most folks also make mistakes of using a single email address over an array of accounts.
As much as it seems easy and simple for you to remember and manage your accounts, the same way it applies to an attacker.
Once they get hold of your email address details, it also gets easy and simple to walk through all your other accounts.
Therefore, to be on the safer side, you should use various email addresses for different purposes to help you keep the online identities that are associated with you separate.
For instance, if you receive a phishing email that claims to be from a bank to an account that you only use for social media, then you’ll know it’s fake.
When signing up for apps on trial, consider maintaining an email address only dedicated to that segment, and once an app is vetted and approved, then you can sign in with your permanent email accounts.
Also, the fact that most emails equate the email address with your username, those that let you select the username should be a priority. Let anyone trying to get into the account not only guess the password, but also the username.
Subsequently, consider trying out one of the secure email providers available today.
9. The ‘Save Password’ feature in browsers should be turned off
Most browsers have an inbuilt password management solution, meaning that when that feature is turned on, then your browser could be knowing too much about you.
It’s not a recommended feature to consider having should you wish to stay safe online.
One food for thought here is, if you install a third-party password manager, typically, it will ask to import the password from the browser’s storage.
Therefore, meaning that if a password manager is capable of doing that, what about some malicious software? It merely means that your password can be obtained in such a manner by other programs as well.
No matter which browser you use, it is generally very easy to switch off the ‘save password’ feature. Below is the three-step process for Chrome users but it should be similar for other browsers too:
- Got to your browser’s ‘Settings.’
- Then click on the ‘Privacy and Security‘ tab available on the left side of the screen.
- Locate and click ‘Passwords.’
- Toggle/turn off the ‘Offer to Save Passwords‘ option there. That is it, you are done.
10. Go smartphone payment Way
The era of credit cards looks to be vanishing, given the exposure they provide to scammers.
But that doesn’t mean there are no payments. You can still pay with your smartphone using the available mobile payment apps.
But, how is mobile payment better than the credit card?
The apps generate a one-use authentication code that won’t be used by anybody trying to filch the code.
Besides, with smartphone payments, there’s no possibility of data theft by the credit card skimmers. Give it a thought.
11. Protect social media privacy
One thing about social media is that you always want to get that entertainment aspect, and by so doing, you reveal too much of yourself to the world without knowing who might be watching.
However, still, you can maintain your online privacy without compromising your entertainment as well as connections on social media.
For instance, with Facebook, you can limit the data going out, thereby disabling the sharing platform entirely. By so doing, you won’t lose data to apps as you won’t be using apps as well as you won’t be using Facebook to log into your other websites.
Also, you can take steps to manage Google privacy as well by configuring every social media site to ensure that the posts you make aren’t public.
Also, before sharing a post with your friends, you should rethink what that post should contain.
Remember, the internet doesn’t have a delete key (ask the New Hampshire candidate).
Every comment or image you post won’t have a way of taking it back or any image you wish you hadn’t made. Therefore, anything you won’t let anyone see or read, don’t get it online.
12. Be smart on click baits
Most individuals have fallen prey to click baits, whereby they click on some videos, catchy headlines, and other links without thinking where it would lead them.
You may be targeted via such links thinking that you’re clicking to install an excellent app or link to some exciting website only to expose yourself to cyber attacks.
Spammers can trick you to providing the essential information that will only be used against you later.
Therefore, you should be certain on the links that you click. For instance, if a link seems too good to be true, then it isn’t, and you should avoid it.
Unless a link is from a source that you’re very sure about and fully trust, consider not going ahead with it.
13. Don’t trust everyone
It is a rule of thumb you should be careful who you trust online.
Perhaps, people you interact with online may not always be who they claim to be. Indeed, they even may not be real.
One popular way for hackers to catch up with careless web users is by faking profile accounts.
Catfishing has hit the headlines before, and it’s an online scam that doesn’t seem to let up anytime soon.
Therefore, it’s upon you to be aware of such fake individuals and avoid them all the time.
Once you realize that all folks may not be the same they seem to be, then you’ll have protected yourself from being hit by a scammer.
14. Educate youngsters about Security
Perhaps, like most folks, you may have learned about the security aspects already at an old age, but you’ve heard a lot of security instances.
Unfortunately, for kids that nowadays get online at a younger generation, teaching them how to stay safe online is becoming challenging as they don’t feel the dangers.
However, the reality is exactly the opposite as they are the weakest link that attackers consider their jackpot and dig a lot of information.
Moreover, they’re at risk of cyberstalkers, bullying, and worse… much worse.
Therefore, it’s significant that the young generation understands the need for keeping personal information private.
They need to be educated to avoid strangers as well as check the appropriateness of a site they visit. And you must educate those youngsters in your family.
15. Use a firewall
Your network could be secure, but still, you need to use a firewall for some added security and privacy.
A firewall is merely an electronic barrier that blocks any unauthorized access to your devices and computers and is often loaded with comprehensive security software.
When you use a firewall, it ensures that all the devices that connect to your network are well secured, including the Internet of Things (IoT) devices such as smart thermostats as well as webcams.
It’s a significant feature because most IoT devices are not equipped with the security measures, meaning hackers have a soft spot of entry into your entire network.
The best thing is, you do not need to pay a dime for it as there are some top free firewalls available today that you can use.
16. Practice safe online shopping
Nowadays, the internet has made things easier to the extent that you can shop in the comfort of your zone and interestingly even get the items delivered to your doorstep.
Anytime you shop online, all you’re needed to provide is simply a bank account or credit card information – all that a cybercriminal is eager to get a hold on.
Therefore, before you provide your information, ensure that the site you’re using is secure and that the connections are encrypted.
So, how do you about it?
The best way that you can identify a secure website is by merely looking for an address that starts with https:// (whereby the S stands for Secure) rather than a site with merely Http:
Also, a secure site will (at all times) be marked with a padlock icon next to the address bar.
Another way you can tell a scammer website is to look for those e-commerce sites that have misspellings or simply bad grammar in the address section. It means that they could simply be copycats of the legitimate websites.
To be safe, always head over to Google or better one of the secure search engines first to discover and read reviews about the sites you are about to shop from.
17. Lookout for latest scams
The internet is evolving each day with new ways to help you stay safe online and new features of keeping hackers at bay.
However, if you thought the hackers are not evolving too, you’re mistaken. In fact, they as well are moving at the pace of web evolution.
Therefore, it means that as technology evolves, so does the way hackers do their things, giving rise to a new level of PayPal scams and other similar threats.
All you have to do is to always ensure that you stay informed with the latest threats that emerge. The only way to evade an online security threat is to be aware of the danger and how it comes about.
18. Don’t save financial information on shopping or any other sites
Shopping online is undoubtedly an exciting prospect – after all, who won’t like shopping from the comfort of their zones?
However, it doesn’t mean that shopping from a secure website ultimately keeps you safe. In fact, even sites with SSL certification, still, can be hacked.
Most sites will let you save your financial information in an online account to make purchases easier. The fact that you can access such information means that a hacker can as well access the information.
Therefore, secure your information better by simply removing it altogether from the websites. It won’t cost you to spend an extra minute to enter information every time you make your purchase.
19. Manage your information and have a private life
A possibility that you should never ignore is the fact that someone somewhere may decide to impersonate you for dubious reasons online.
Therefore, you should make sure that you keep track of everything that’s happening under your name online.
Google can help you to manage your information; you only need to search your name for at least once a month so that you can keep tabs on online content that’s relating to you.
Also, as much as you may be tempted to tell the world how well you’re faring on, learn to keep things to yourself.
That way, you will keep impersonators to the minimum as they won’t have much information about you, you will limit theft, and you’ll have even limited the physical theft.
Bonus tip: Beware of the free items
When using free applications and web services, the user should always ask himself what benefit the information provided by him can bring to the developers.
Most of the time, users “pay” for using free applications and services with their personal data, which are monetized by service providers.
For example, a user may receive unwanted advertisements on specified phone numbers and email addresses. And of course, it does not end there.
Online safety tips for kids
Possibly the kids are not aware of the risks and dangers associated with surfing the internet without proper protection.
They only focus on the internet side of it, making them much vulnerable and exposed to cybercriminals.
Therefore, to ensure that the children are not exposed, they should be taught the following safety tips;
- Never to give out the passwords to anyone.
- Never post personal information, such as email address or mobile number.
- Before posting anything online, you should think carefully.
- Never meet online people; instead, tell your parent about it.
- Don’t befriend individuals you don’t know.
- Private settings on internet services (such as social media or gaming sites) should be kept as private as much as possible.
- Online people may not be who they claim to be
- The views of others should be respected online; it doesn’t mean that you agree with everything you read online, so don’t be rude.
- If anything comes up online that makes you uncomfortable, worried, or unsafe; simply leave the site, switch of your device if you have to, and let a trusted adult individual know about it.
The bottom line
It’s a digital age whereby not everybody is looking at you online and smiling.
Some are looking for potholes to exploit and make a living from you. So, it’s a no brainer that you have to remain vigilant online.
Of course, there are several measures that you should take when it comes to your online safety.
If you genuinely wish to stay safe online, there is not a single magic trick or tool that can help, you rather need to complete a puzzle with some common sense and using few tools.
And as you have made it to this end of the article, it means you have now got all that you need to complete the puzzle of protecting online privacy.
But if you ask me, the most important things for boosting your safety online include creating strong passwords, enabling two-factor authentication wherever possible, using a privacy-focused VPN such as ExpressVPN, keeping your devices locked, and always putting your commons sense into work while online.
About the author
Douglas is a freelance writer with over six years of experience in article and blog writing who has written in almost every industry with cybersecurity being his primary interest. Mabiria is an advocate for internet privacy, sustainable development, and a green environment. He is very social and enjoys trying new sports as well as implementing new ideas.