The internet is an amazing place and an environment that many of us have had to rely on for communication and social interaction due to the restrictions brought about by the Covid pandemic. Many of us are using the internet far more for keeping in touch, using the many social media platforms to keep in contact with family and friends and also for essential services such as shopping and banking. This allows us to reduce the risk of exposure to the virus but does pose some potential risks of falling foul of online hackers and people who try to obtain your personal data. There are however, a few simple things that you can do to dramatically reduce your risk of falling foul of online fraudsters and hackers.

The first is to secure your devices. There is little point in having secure accounts and making sure your online presence is locked down if the device you are using to access those accounts is not itself secure. Many of us will be using a phone, tablet or computer to access the internet. All of these devices can be made secure with relatively little effort. Most phones have at least PIN security and many now have fingerprint and facial recognition meaning if you leave you phone somewhere and it falls into the wrong hands, they are going to have a difficult, if not impossible task of getting into the device to access your data held on the phone or tablet. In the case of a laptop or desktop computer, make sure you use them over a secure network at home with encrypted Wi-Fi or in the case of public Wi-Fi, use VPN (Virtual Private Network) software to give a level of encryption and protection to prevent your device being compromised.

Many of us shop online and there are some great bargains to be had but you should be careful where you shop on the internet. When you visit a website the address, also known as a “URL”, this should always start with the characters “https” and have a little padlock icon to the left in the address bar. If it starts with just “http” and there is no padlock then the website is unlikely to be secure and supplying your password or personal details is going to be potentially risky. Some internet fraudsters intentionally construct websites to mimic big well known websites that invite you to supply your logon details or bank details thinking you are using the genuine site. In short, make sure the website you are using is genuine and that it is secure, if in doubt, go elsewhere.

One common security risk at the moment are fake emails and text messages apparently being sent by banks. These are often warnings to say your account has been accessed or money had gone from your account. The first thing you have to ask yourself is do you actually have an account with that bank? If you have any concerns then under no circumstances click any links sent, instead go directly to the banks website or app and make enquiries with the bank directly. Banks do not send out text and email inviting you to give your logon details so you should only ever use them on the website you know to be the genuine bank website. The same applies to websites or apps you may hold accounts with for shopping, social media or other online services , do not click links sent to you, go direct to the genuine app/website and logon to check there.

Passwords are another overlooked security issue. Gone are the days where you can use your pets name or mother’s maiden name. We should be using pass phrases which are short sentences which can include numbers and punctuation characters where possible. This will make your accounts far more secure and for the basic hacker or fraudster, not worth the time and effort to try and work out. Of course the basics still apply, don’t write them down or store them unsecured. Most passwords or passphrases can be managed using the online browsers found on devices or you can use a separate app that manages all your passwords but again, make sure this is a genuine app and that you have secured the account with a strong password or ideally 2 factor authentication which means a text or email is sent to you when you logon for you to authenticate that you are logging on and not someone else. This obviously relies on your phone or tablet being secured so someone else cannot intercept those authentication messages.

Think carefully before uploading posts on social media. Once you upload a photo you have lost control over it and it can be spread across the internet and shared by other people. The same goes for personal data such as your date of birth, your address or your phone number or other personal information. Once it’s there you have lost control of it. You should also think about who you are talking to online. Unless you know that person you have no idea who they really are. If they have asked to “friend” you or follow you, ask yourself why this is, as once you have allowed this, they can see your activity and unless your social media settings are secure they can share your posts with others. In short, unless you are happy for your parents, teachers or future employers to see or read the post then it’s probably not a good idea to share it.

The internet is a fantastic place and it’s possibilities seem almost limitless but we have to be sensible and use some basis precautions. You would never leave your front door wide open, or leave your purse, wallet or phone in the street, and your online security is no different. Take some basic steps and use some safe guards and you can use the internet confident that your details are kept safe from prying eyes.