5 essential tips for better online security

Few of us would ever consider leaving our house or car unlocked, but when it comes to the internet we’re not always so security conscious. Many of us use the web daily to shop, manage finances or share personal details with friends and family. Most of the time the web is a safe place, but it still pays to protect yourself from the risks posed by hackers, scammers and computer viruses. Follow these simple tips and you can sleep easier, knowing your online data is well protected.

1. Get password smart

Using one password for all your accounts is the online equivalent of putting all your eggs in one basket. Not all websites have the same levels of security, so using the same password for online banking as you do for, say, your local camera club is a bad idea: if one is hacked, they’re all compromised. Never write passwords down. If you find it hard to remember them all, consider using an online password locker service such as Lastpass or Dashlane. These sites store all your various accounts and passwords for you, and are heavily encrypted to keep out hackers.

2. Update your software

Those annoying little pop-up notifications telling you to upgrade your system are there for a reason. Online security technology is constantly evolving to beat hackers – if you don’t have the most recent software installed you’ll be left more exposed to breaches. The most important updates to watch are those to your computer’s operating system, web browser and antivirus software (which you should make sure you have installed).

3. Watch out for email scams

Scammers are getting smarter, to it pays to be alert. ‘Phishing’ scams convince victims to reveal their bank details using emails that appear to be from a trusted source such as a bank, service provider or government authority. Often these emails will look very convincing, with official looking logos and letterheads. If in doubt, call whatever organisation the email purports to be from (using a reliable phone number, not one provided in the email) and check the veracity.

4. Keep personal details private

Set your social media settings to private and consider what information you share in messages, posts and emails. If you use instant messaging services, be sure to use a nickname or ‘username’, not your real name. Never send credit card information, social security number or other private details via email.

5. Log out, lock up

If you bank, shop or pay bills online remember to always log out from your account when you’re done. Many browsers automatically ‘remember’ users and will keep you signed in even after you close the page, which leaves you vulnerable if your computer, tablet or smartphone falls into the wrong hands. For the same reason, it’s a good idea to set a strong password lock on all your devices and set it to automatically lock if it’s left idle for a few minutes.