A family using a computer
By taking a few simple steps, you can be certain your internet use is safe and secure ©

Mat Wright

Are you worried about internet safety? Many people are. Whether you do business, connect with friends or want to meet new people, the internet makes all of those things easier - but also presents a lot of challenges. 

But don’t fear, because there are a few simple steps you can take to be sure that your internet use is safe and secure. You don’t need any specialist knowledge to protect yourself from risk - so read on for our top five tips for staying safe online.

Are your social media privacy settings secure?

Social networks are a great way of telling the world who you are, but you should make sure that people only see what you are comfortable with them knowing. That means that 

Even simple things like holiday photos can reveal too much: there have been cases where people have uploaded vacation photos and found that their houses have been broken into because people knew they were away from home. If you are sharing information that would suggest your house is empty, then it pays to make sure that only people you trust can see it. Most good social networks offer a way to quickly review your privacy settings and allow you to see your public profile.

Have you ever searched your name online?

Searching for yourself online seems silly if you’re not famous. But it’s important to do so every now and again, because this allows you to see everything Google and other search engines can see about you. Some personal information, such as your phone number, may be public. 

Embarrassing photos might have made it outside of your friendship groups, or things you’ve said when you were younger could still be appearing prominently now, even if you’ve changed your mind. Employers are well known across the world to use search engines as part of their background-checking process. If there’s even the slightest chance that someone might find something you wouldn’t want them to see, make sure you check - otherwise, if you find out any other way, it might be too late.

Be very careful about meeting people from the internet

The internet is a great place to meet people - either new friends or potential romantic partners. Yet it is also very easy to disguise your identity and pretend to be somebody else.

When arranging meetings with people you have met on the internet, be especially careful. Even if you are exchanging goods after making a deal online, make sure that any first-time meetings take place in public where there are many people around. If you ever begin to suspect that the person you’re speaking to might be concealing something, be careful and ask for anything that might support their identity.

This is especially true for young people and children. Young people must tell their parents where they are going and who they are meeting if they plan to visit anybody they met online.

Keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software up to date

We’ve all used a computer without the proper protection at least once - and found that it’s started to run slower or behaving strangely as a result. Nobody regrets having antivirus software, and in 2016, there has never been an easier time to be protected.

There is an array of software out there to protect yourself. Windows Defender, which is available for free on modern Windows systems and comes included on recent releases, does the job very well. Other, paid antivirus software is also potentially worthwhile. Whatever you decide to do, make sure that your computer settings say that you are adequately protected against security threats. Otherwise, your credit card details and even your identity could be at risk.

Don’t use the same password for every website

It’s a pain trying to remember one password, let alone lots of them. But it’s important to use different passwords on different websites. Make sure that your passwords are secure, using a combination of letters, numbers and special characters (such as & and @), and that they don’t contain publicly available information like your name, place of study, or date of birth. 

Using many passwords rather than just one limits the damage that hackers can do. For example, if someone steals your Facebook password and that is the same as your online banking password, then you are exposed to a much greater threat than you were before. Sometimes you can do everything right and still have your password stolen (LinkedIn, for example, suffered a severe hack which compromised user data). In those cases, if you used a password that was only for that website, you can be assured that you’re safe. 

Want to know more?

The British Council Library has plenty of resources to help you use technology to the fullest.  Members can enjoy access to magazines such as .Net and Computeractive. Members who wish to brush up their computer skills can also access software and hardware tutorials from Atomic Training. Take a look at our membership page and see what we can offer you. 

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