19 ways to stay safe online and keep internet threats at a bay
The internet – arguably the best technology – has evolved from a mere invention to become part of human life. Interestingly, from communications and education to businesses, the usefulness of the internet is evident in all sectors. But, with all its advantages, the internet comes with a plethora of risks, making it challenging to stay safe online without modifying your browsing habits.
With scams, hacking attacks, malware, and many other digital threats proliferating, the web has seemingly become dangerous. Thus, every internet user, from individuals to businesses, needs to apply various practices to prevent online threats.
Although, some companies strive to keep you safe online by deploying some security features. But still, you have to do more from your side to ensure total security.
In simple words, you should be aware of the dangers as much as you get excited about the cool things when stepping into the online world. That’s because if an attacker gets hold of your personal information, a lot of damage will likely come your way.
Gladly, while the internet seems a jungle of a million threats, you can still easily protect your online privacy with many easy ways. This article explains them all to you.
How to stay safe online – Quick summary
Staying secure online is all about applying basic security measures at every step. It’s more about developing the mindset for online security rather than merely following some instructions.
So, if you already have that mindset and want to know how you can achieve online safety, here is a quick overview of all 19 methods that this article describes in detail.
- Secure your device with a robust antivirus/antimalware solution.
- Protect your network with a firewall and a robust VPN.
- Protect all your personal and official accounts with strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.
- Avoid being more than ‘social’ on social media.
- Think twice before clicking on a link or opening an attachment, or downloading a file.
- Never fall for any message, email, or offer from a stranger.
- Switch to secure online payment options instead of using your credit card or bank details.
- Teach your kids about online privacy.
- Remember, “nothing is for free in the online world (besides advice)” – re-read this point.
Are you curious to know how to implement these points to stay safe from online risks? Read along.
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 pockets.
However, most tips would cost you nothing but some time and attention.
Now, without any further ado, here are the ways that will help you protect your internet privacy.
1. Make use of a VPN
Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are one of the top tools 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 (a virtual server for the user). Also, the connection gets encrypted by the VPN service provider.
As the VPN makes your internet traffic go through a secure tunnel (the encrypted connection), online snoopers such as spammers, hackers, or governments cannot obtain your data. But even if they succeed in infiltrating the tunnel, they can’t read your data due to the VPN’s encryption.
Indeed, a VPN is your best line of defense whenever you go online, especially when using a free WiFi connection at a public place, like a coffee shop.
Lured by the idea of using free internet, you happily connect to the free WiFi available without realizing the security risks of such a connection. It’s in such places that attackers snoop into your device and even steal your important information.
Therefore, before connecting to such free WiFi networks, you should ensure having the best VPN already installed on your phone.
A quality VPN such as ExpressVPN encrypts your internet traffic and routes it via the server of the company’s VPN. Hence, no one will be able to snoop on your data, not even the owner of the free WiFi.
Moreover, a VPN hides your IP address, which blocks the big brothers from monitoring and identifying your location.
Furthermore, it will help you unblock online content otherwise restricted in your country.
2. Use unique password for each website
Passwords work as the key to getting onto various sites and accounts. That’s why most folks use a single password over several accounts online to avoid the hassle of managing and remembering a bunch of different passwords.
However, reusing passwords means that if an attacker gets hold of your password for one account, it’s common sense that they will try it with your other accounts. And if they succeed, it means you lose all your accounts to the hacker at once.
Therefore, to ensure that you don’t fall victim to such scenarios, you should always create a solid and unique password for each of your online accounts.
Perhaps, the best way to keep personal and financial information safe is by creating complex passwords for every critical account. Ideally, you can take help from an online password generator to get unique and robust passwords. With such tools, you can also customize the complexity level of your password. You can then save them somewhere for use later.
Also, consider using a secure password manager such as LastPass to help you create and store your passwords. Then, 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 time otherwise spent typing logins to various accounts and keeps you from the hassle of resetting forgotten passwords.
3. Use two-factor authentication
Another effective way to stay safe from online threats is using two-factor authentication (or 2FA) on your accounts.
With 2FA, a user sets up another layer of authentication on top of the username and password details when logging into accounts.
This way 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.
With this verification check, your account remains safe even if your account password gets leaked. That’s because it will need another verification to let the user through that a snooper won’t have.
So, even though using 2FA looks tedious, it surely makes accounts more secure.
Therefore, if your service provider offers two-factor authentication, you should enable it.
For instance, some online services such as Dropbox, Evernote, and Gmail provide two-factor authentication.
4. Install an up-to-date antivirus
An antivirus provides much more protection than you may think. It protects you against a plethora of malicious software (or malware).
Most folks set their antivirus protection and let it run in the background. While it’s convenient, it might sometimes miss to automatically get an update that might fix a critical security vulnerability.
Leaving the antivirus tools without updates poses a severe risk to your device. Therefore, after installing the antivirus, you should regularly check it to ensure it’s up-to-date.
Also, most of the antivirus utilities will show a green banner or icon when everything is fine. However, when you realize that it’s showing red or yellow, you should immediately take the steps it asks to get things back 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 installing a robust third-party antivirus solution.
Before you select a full security suite or a simple antivirus, remember that you’ll likely have to pay for a renewable subscription.
Also, if your antivirus lacks ransomware protection, consider adding another layer of security by installing a dedicated ransomware protection tool, such as the Kaspersky Anti-Ransomware.
5. Understand the installed security tools
You probably may have installed separate security apps or configured your device to increase your protection by reading some online guides.
But how well do you understand how they work? Have you even actively tried them out?
Any app or setting you have on your device will only help 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, understand how an app you install works to ensure it efficiently performs the expected functions. Also, consider sparing some time to go through the instructions from the official app or device vendors to learn about it.
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 may reveal your home address, family information, and other personal details.
Therefore, delete browser cookies and clear the browser history regularly to avoid leaving traces behind online.
If you’re hesitant to clear the entire browsing history, you can choose the elements of browser data that you think may reveal unnecessary information about you.
7. Do not consider passcodes as optional anymore
Ideally, you should prefer applying passcode locks wherever they are available, even if as an optional feature. That’s because your device might have a lot of personal information that would become vulnerable to hacking attacks if left without a passcode.
Some devices will only offer a four-digit PIN by default. But of course, you should not entirely rely on such weak codes as they are vulnerable to brute force attacks. So 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.
While it seems easy for you to remember and manage your accounts, it’s also easy for an attacker to hack them.
Once they get hold of your email address details for one account, they can easily walk through all your other accounts.
Therefore, to stay safe across all your online accounts, you should use various email addresses for different purposes. This will keep the online identities associated with you separate from each other.
Also, it will help you detect a scam quickly. For instance, if you receive a phishing email impersonating a bank on your email address that you only use for social media, you’ll know it’s fake.
When signing up for apps on trial, consider maintaining an email address only dedicated to that segment. Then, once an app is vetted and approved, you can sign in with your permanent email accounts.
Also, note that most emails equate the email address with your username. So, try to use the ones that let you select a separate username. Make it difficult for anyone trying to get into your account by adding usernames as well to guess besides your password.
Subsequently, consider trying out one of the secure email providers available today to protect your email communications.
9. Disable the ‘Save Password’ feature in your browsers
Most browsers have an inbuilt password management solution, which, when enabled, lets your browser know too much about you.
It’s not a recommended feature to have should you wish to stay safe online. That’s because most cyber threats reach out to you via your browsers. And, since saving passwords in the browser is convenient, the attackers typically aim at stealing the stored credentials.
Wondering how’s that possible? Take the example of a password manager. Whenever you install a third-party password manager, it will typically ask to import passwords from the browser’s storage.
So, if a password manager can do that, why can’t the malicious software do the same? It merely hints that your password can be obtained in such a manner by other programs as well.
It is generally easy to switch off the ‘save password’ feature no matter which browser you use.
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.
10. Go smartphone payment way
The era of credit cards seems to vanish, given their vulnerability to scammers.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t pay online. You can still pay with your smartphone using the available mobile payment apps.
But, how is mobile payment better than credit cards? We hear you ask.
The apps generate a one-use authentication code that won’t be used by anybody trying to steal the code.
Besides, there’s no possibility of data theft by credit card skimmers with smartphone payments. So if you desire to stay safe from online financial frauds, give this option a thought.
11. Protect social media privacy
Social media is all about enjoying yourself while interacting with different people online. However, while doing so, you ignorantly reveal too much about yourself to the world without realizing who might watch you. Your followers might also include potential hackers whom you should stay wary of.
Does it mean you have to quit your social media life?
Gladly, you can maintain your online privacy without compromising your entertainment and connections on social media.
For instance, with Facebook, you can limit the data going out by disabling the platform’s data-sharing features. By doing so, you won’t lose data to third-party apps as you won’t be using them. Also, avoid using Facebook to log in to other websites.
Likewise, you can take steps to manage Google privacy by configuring every social media site to ensure that the posts you make aren’t public.
Besides, before sharing a post with your friends, review its contents to remove any personal detail.
Remember, the internet doesn’t have a delete key; every comment or image you post online can’t be taken back. Therefore, if there’s anything you don’t want anyone to 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 fall for legit-looking malicious links when you wish to install an app or visit a website, unknowingly exposing yourself to cyber attacks.
Spammers can trick you into providing the essential information that they can use against you later.
Therefore, you should be sure of 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 trusted source, consider not going ahead with it.
13. Don’t trust everyone online
It is a rule of thumb that you should be careful about who to trust online. Perhaps, people you interact with online may not always be who they claim. 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 what they seem, you’ll stay safe from being hit by an online 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 today’s kids who get online much early, teaching them how to stay safe online is difficult as they don’t feel the dangers.
However, kids are the most vulnerable to online attacks because the attackers consider them a jackpot for information.
Moreover, they’re at risk of cyberstalkers, bullying, and worse… much worse.
Therefore, it’s inevitable for the young generation to understand keeping personal information private. Educate the youngsters you know on avoiding strangers and checking the appropriateness of a site they visit.
15. Use a firewall
While your network could be secure with a VPN, you still need to use a firewall for added security and privacy.
A firewall is merely an electronic barrier that blocks unauthorized access to your devices and computers. It often comes with comprehensive security software.
Using a firewall ensures that all the devices connected to your network remain safe, including the Internet of Things (IoT) devices, such as smart thermostats and webcams.
It’s a significant feature because most IoT devices lack adequate security measures. It means the hackers get a soft spot of entry into your entire network through these devices.
Fortunately, you do not need to pay a dime for it — thanks to some of the top free firewalls available today that you can use.
16. Practice safe online shopping
The internet has made things so easier that you can shop in the comfort of your home and even get the items delivered to your doorstep.
It only requires sharing a bank account or credit card information to make payments anytime you shop online. Well, unfortunately, that’s all that a cybercriminal is eager to get a hold of.
Therefore, before sharing your information, ensure that the site you’re using is secure and has encrypted connections.
But, how do you know about it?
The best way to identify a secure website is to look for an address that starts with https:// (where the ‘s’ stands for ‘secure’) instead of http://. The extra ‘s’ here indicates the SSL certification, which warrants that the site has encrypted connections.
Also, a secure site will (at all times) be marked with a padlock icon next to the address bar.
Another way to spot a scammer website is to look for e-commerce sites with misspellings or simply bad grammar in the address section. Websites with such URLs often impersonate legitimate websites in the layout to trick users.
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 before sharing your details.
17. Lookout for latest scams
The internet is evolving each day with new ways to help you stay safe online and keep hackers at bay.
However, if you thought the hackers were not evolving too, you’re mistaken. They as well are moving at the pace of web evolution.
Therefore, the technological changes consequently give rise to new online scams, such as PayPal scams and other similar threats. That’s what you should be wary of.
For this, always ensure that you stay informed of the latest and emerging threats. 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 any websites
Shopping online is undoubtedly an exciting prospect – after all, who won’t like shopping from the comfort of their homes?
However, it doesn’t mean that shopping from a secure website ultimately keeps you safe. Even sites with SSL certification can be hacked.
Most sites will let you save your financial information in an online account to make purchases easier. However, if you can access such information, a hacker can also access that data.
Therefore, secure your information better simply by removing it altogether from the websites. Indeed, it won’t cost you much to spend an extra minute to enter information every time you make a purchase.
19. Manage your information and have a private life
A possibility that you should never ignore is that someone somewhere may decide to impersonate you for dubious reasons online.
Therefore, make sure to keep track of everything that’s happening under your name online.
Google can help you manage your information. Usually, you only need to search for your name at least once a month to keep tabs on online content 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. Consequently, you limit not only online theft but also physical theft.
Bonus tip: Beware of the free items
When using free applications and web services, always ask yourself what benefit the information you provide can bring to the developers.
Most of the time, users “pay” for using free applications and services with their personal data, which the service providers then monetize.
For example, you may receive unwanted ads on your specified phone numbers and email addresses simply because a free service provider sold your data to some advertiser. 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, making them much vulnerable and exposed to cybercriminals.
Therefore, to ensure that the children stay safe from various online threats, they should be taught the following safety tips.
- Never share passwords with anyone.
- Never post personal information, such as email address or mobile number, online.
- Think carefully before posting anything online.
- Never meet online people. Instead, tell your parents/guardians about it if someone urges you for a meetup.
- 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 possible.
- Online people may not be who they claim.
- The views of others should be respected online. While it doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything you read online, don’t be rude in case a conflict of opinion.
- 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. Instead, 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 digital security.
So, if you genuinely wish to stay safe online, don’t look for a single magic trick or tool. Instead, you need to complete a puzzle with more common sense and a few tools.
And as you have made it to the end of this article, it means you now have got all that you need to complete the puzzle of protecting online privacy.
In short, 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 NordVPN, 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.