Blog Post

Top Online Security Tips

Date Published: Mar 11, 2021

Man using a tablet at a table

With the amount of personal information needed to create accounts for different services on the World Wide Web such as social media and shopping, it is important to ensure you stay safe and secure on the internet. 

Hackers and viruses lurk to steal your information and use it for their own personal gain, luckily though there are actions you can take to keep your internet experience safe. Check out the quick tips below to help guide you.

Keep Your Online Accounts Safe

Create a Super Secure Password

Think of each password you have for an online account as a toothbrush. You want to make sure you pick a good one, don't share it, and if you notice a problem, replace it. Passwords are the first and sometimes only line of defense between you and your personal information. Make sure that when you create passwords they are strong, complicated and very difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to guess.

Try to have one that is somewhere between 8 and 64 characters long, or however long a website allows, and uses a mix of special characters, numbers, and upper and lowercase letters. Avoid easy-to-learn passwords like birthdates or passwords that relate to personal information that can be easily guessed.

Stick to things like phrases and make them complicated. For example, instead of your password being ILikeToTravel (I Like To Travel) you could alter it to be: I<32tvl or iL!k3t0Tr@vl.

As you create accounts for multiple different systems, online sites, or applications, make sure that you do not use the same password on multiple different accounts. Reusing a password can hurt your accounts the same as if you were to use a weak password, because if an attacker gets your password for one account they will have access to all of your other accounts that use the same password.

To help keep track of your passwords you can use a password manager program. If you feel someone may have your password for an account or system, change it as soon as possible and check to see if they have done any damage.

You can learn more about making a hacker intimidating password CISA.

Keep Your Account Info Updated

There is a chance that over the years since creating an account something in your life has changed. Perhaps you moved, got a new email, or got a new phone number. Make sure that if a piece of information in your account does change, such as your contact info, you update your information. Keeping your information updated and current will be a huge benefit if your account is ever locked for security purposes. The customer care team for the website or system your locked account is under will be able to easily verify you, if your contact information is kept up to speed. Not to mention you ever want something delivered to your house, having your address updated would be helpful.

Keep Yourself Safe

Beware of Email and Password Phishing Scams

Scams are all over the internet varying from schemes to hurt you financially or password phishing scams, where attackers try to get a hold of your password so they can unlawfully access your accounts.

When cleaning up your email, ignore or report as spam any unsolicited email such as emails that try to get you to invest in stocks or take part in an advance fee fraud or those Nigerian 419 scams, which ask you to pay a fee for "guaranteed" cash later. If you should ever receive an email from a bank or online service that is marked as "urgent", be cautious. Majority of respectable services will contact you by mail if there is an issue.

Be careful when you come across links in emails and entering website addresses. Links and website addresses that contain malicious content may look almost identical to legitimate sites, normally using slight spelling changes, additional special characters, and/or a different domain (ex: .com instead of .gov). A good practice is to hover over links before clicking on them to gain a sneak peek into where they will actually take you.

The same goes for email attachments. Be especially weary when attachments are compressed files or zip files. If you received an attachment from someone you know that you did not expect or looks suspicious in any way, contact that person to make sure they actually sent it to you.

If you happen to receive an email that looks suspicious, try to check to see if it is safe by contacting the sender directly. If you can, use a previous email from the sender that you know is safe to make sure the contact info is correct before contacting.

Be Cautious About What You Share About yourself

The internet and social media alike can be a nice way to meet people and stay connected with friends and family. However, keep in mind, especially when it comes to meeting people online, that not everyone is who they appear to be. Attackers may even create fake accounts resembling friends and family members.

With meeting people online, be careful of who you trust and what you share with an online stranger. Think carefully about what you share on blogs, social media sites and apps, and other websites. Scammers and hackers can easily get this information and they can use it against you and for and with bad intentions. Before entering personal information into a website, check to make sure the website is secure and the information you plan to enter will be encrypted.

If you should ever receive a friend request from a duplicate friend on a social media site, be sure to message the original one to make sure the duplicate is them. If you receive a strange message from a social media friend or one that requests information or has a strange link, ignore it until you contact that person through a medium outside of that social media site to make sure it was them.

Be Careful When Using Shared or Public Computers

If you use a computer that is shared in a public or private setting, be sure to sign out when you are not using an account or sign out of the computer when you are done using it. Also, you will want to clear your browser's cache after using the internet.

Using a shared computer comes with more risk than using a computer that no one else has access to. So make sure you never save passwords on websites or applications, keep an eye out for people that may be watching you type passwords over your shoulder, completely sign out, don't check any “keep me signed in boxes”, and never leave a computer unattended that you are signed in to.

Keep Your Computer Safe and Secure

Install and use Antivirus and Antispyware Software

Antivirus and antispyware software can detect majority, but not all, forms of malicious software, before they have a chance to affect your computer. Along with this, you will want to regularly educate yourself and make yourself aware of recent threats and stay up to date on ransomware tactics.

You can find news on phishing attacks by visiting the Anti-Phishing Working Group website and you can also sign up to receive news and tips through CISA product notifications.

You will also want to install firewalls (block unauthorized access) and email filters and keep them, and your antivirus and antispyware software, up to date.

Readily Update Your Devices

Companies often come out with updates for their products to enhance them, fix issues, and patch up anything that could allow an attacker access. You can prevent a lot of problems by simply and regularly checking for and installing updates for your devices, applications, browser's, and operating systems (OS's). Check out Understanding Patches for more info.

To add, be cautious and which programs you download or install onto your computer or device. Malicious software can mask itself as legit and useful software. So, think twice when it comes to installing and running new software, especially if it is unsolicited, and do your research on the software.