IT seems so obvious — we are all spending so much of our time online that we should be experts on safely using the internet without getting ourselves into trouble.
We put so much trust in our devices and the web browsers that we use to keep us safe that we do not really give a second thought to how secure these things really are.
Your Iphone or android device will give you some limited protection and the internet browser you so quickly open will give you warnings from time to time however the reality is that it is down to us, the humans behind the devices to understand the dangers and arm ourselves with the knowledge to safely navigate online.
How to tell if a website can be trusted?
Cybercriminals are experts at copying legitimate websites. These will often look like login pages to sites that you are familiar with, like your email or online banking. They are designed to get you to enter your username and password so they can use your credentials to access the real service and ultimately make some financial gain. At first look it can be difficult to tell but a quick examination will show you some tell tale signs.
Is there a lock symbol on the left hand side of the web address or do you see https rather than http. The lock or https means that the data that you are entering on the website is encrypted. All legitimate websites should have this. If they do not you should think twice about using them and never enter any sensitive data such as your credit card details.
You should also examine the web address.
Hackers can easily purchase internet domains that look really similar to the real thing.
They might swap out some letters with numbers or symbols for example a gmail login could be www.gmai1.com rather than www.gmail.com. If you are in doubt don’t use a link that you received in an email, SMS or on social media. Google the service you are looking for and access it that way.
Shopping securely online
There are so many dodgy online shops popping up these days especially through social media advertising.
If you see deals that seem to good to be true, they probably are and you will often get poor quality products or worse still you get nothing and your credit card details will have been stolen.
Again, if you are not sure, google the online store and check for reviews before you make a purchase.
You can also use services like the Google Transparency Report, type in the web address and you will get an answer to say if it can be trusted or not.
Make sure your internet browser is up to date
Hackers will often try to target vulnerabilities in old internet browsers to launch an attack knowing that many people do not run updates regularly enough.
All the mainstream browsers like Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Microsoft Edge have an automatic update feature where you can set it and forget it.
Many browsers are getting good at identifying suspicious websites so if you see a big red warning screen before you access a website, close the page straight away. Most browsers will block pop-ups by default which can really help as many of these can contain viruses.
Be careful what you download
So many of the services we use online are free; our email and our social media accounts don’t cost us anything apart from all the advertising that is sent to us or data that these services capture every time we log in. This can give an expectation that all the other services we use online should also be free.
Sites that offer free movie downloads or free music streaming will often host malicious attachments that can infect your device with viruses such as malware or key stroke loggers that can detect every key you press on your keyboard and send all that information including usernames and passwords to a cyber-criminal.
It is also worthwhile investing in a good anti-virus software to run on your device. These tools will highlight potentially dangerous websites and scan attachments and warn you if anything suspicious is detected.
It is only in recent years that schools have started teaching kids how to safely navigate the internet, for older readers we will not have received much formal education on how to protect ourselves online.
We might get some training in work or picked up snippets in the media, but it is good to know there are many free resources available that can provide lots of good information. Webwise.ie is a government funded site run by the Department of Education and the EU and gives plenty of detailed advice on how to stay safe online.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John-Ross Hunt is a Product Manager with Cyber Security leaders Trend Micro, specializing in the area of enterprise security awareness training with the product Phish Insight
Tomorrow: Safely working from home.