How to Stay Safe Online

This article was originally written for ArrowQuick Solutions, a technology consultancy for small businesses.

Posted on October 27, 2010
October is Cyber Security Month

The web is arguably the best opportunity for attackers and scammers. There are many technologies in play that can be taken advantage of, and its global reach means they can go after many potential victims quickly. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you visit websites.

  • Use an up-to-date web browser. Your web browser is the intermediary between you and the websites you visit, so you should always use the newest version to protect yourself from the latest attacks. If you use the computer’s pre-installed browser, make sure Windows Update (or Software Update on a Mac) runs periodically. Most other browsers have an auto-update feature.
  • Avoid downloading programs from unknown sources. Just as you shouldn’t open strange attachments you receive in your Inbox, don’t accept or open a file download if you didn’t ask for it.
  • Use strong passwords. Do not use your Social Security number or birthday as a password. Use combinations of letters, numbers, and special characters such as “pound” (#) and “at” (@) signs. Having a different password for each of your various online accounts is the most secure — using a password manager like KeePass makes multiple passwords easy to manage.
  • Use secure websites when shopping and banking. First, only use websites that you trust and are reputable. Second, make sure that the process is secure and encrypted — look for “secure transaction” symbols like a padlock symbol and the “https://…” prefix in the address bar of the website. Many websites will also display the trusted name of the company in a green or blue box in the address bar.
  • Always log off from any website when finished. Whether it’s a bank website, an e-commerce site, or Facebook, it’s always safer to log off when you are done to prevent unauthorized access to your account information. If you cannot log off, close your browser. Turn off the computer (or lock it) when you’re done using it.
  • Conduct private transactions on secure computers only. Activities like banking and shopping should only be conducted on a computer you know to be safe and secure. Public computers (those at internet cafes, libraries, etc.) should be used with caution, due to shared use and possible tampering. Also, be careful when using public internet access (such as the wi-fi at a cafe) if the website is not secure.

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