4 Steps to Staying Safe Online

One of the challenges of the current cyber age is that everyone owns at least one computer or mobile device, and most have more. Today, people constantly use their smartphones and tablets in all manner of public places, from waiting rooms and the local coffeehouse to sporting events. You see them everywhere scrolling through their messages, sending texts and posting photos on social media.

While these devices provide users with a real convenience, they can also be dangerous if they’re not used wisely and safely. Rarely a week goes by that you don’t see a news story about someone’s identity being stolen or their online account compromised. Then, there are the hackers, phishers and other online criminals who figure out ways to breach security. If you use your Internet-connected devices in public areas — as most people do — it’s important to ensure that you’re using them safely.

Below are four tips to help you ensure safe online experiences.

Be wary of rogue emails and other possible hacks.

From email correspondence with friends and family members to ecommunications for which you’ve voluntarily signed up, like sales messages from shopping sites, you’re getting tons of messages online. It’s great to stay informed but there are problems that can result if you aren’t on guard. Don’t click on links in emails unless you know with absolute certainty that they’re safe. Also, be careful about what personal information you post online. Consider marking your social media accounts private so only friends and family members can access your private posts. Also, watch out for any red flags.

Don’t share your passwords.

Let’s be honest — no one beside you, or maybe a family member, needs to know your passwords. It’s like the combination lock on your locker at the gym or spa. Keep it to yourself. Also, select passwords that no one can easily guess. Since you likely have usernames and passwords for numerous sites, write them all on a slip of paper and keep it in a safe place for easy access.

Do not download or install anything on your computer or devices unless you’re sure it’s safe.

It’s way too easy to download a rogue file that could compromise your data, place unwanted cookies on your hard drive or even cause the computer or device to stop working correctly. Referring back to the earlier comment about links, be aware that cyber hackers — who are criminals, make no mistake about it — are always sending links to unsuspecting people and cleverly disguising them as legitimate emails. One click on the wrong link could unleash a world of problems and carry a significant cost if your computer or device needs to be serviced. To ensure that you don’t accidently download a virus, Trojan horse or other troublemaking file, install virus protection on their computers. That way, you’ll get a warning if a rogue link or file shows up in your email box.

Don’t share personal information online with anyone you don’t know.

There are many people online purporting to be someone else, and you never know when the nice person you’re conversing with online is someone with less-than-sincere intentions. Unfortunately, these people infiltrate chat rooms and other online meeting places, start conversations and attempt to gain personal information. Sometimes, they’ll try to convince you to meet in person. If you do happen to encounter someone and find yourself in an online conversation that makes you uncomfortable, log off immediately and save the conversation if you can. Then, alert the proper authorities, if necessary.