The Beginner’s Guide to Digital Safety

Digital Safety Guide

From malware, phishing scams, identity theft, and fake news to common security issues, there are many important things you need to know about your digital safety.

Many of us don’t believe that we have interesting data to warrant being hacked. As a result, we may often be a lot laxer about our digital safety than we should be.

Yet by not keeping up with your digital safety, you put yourself and others at high risk of being targeted and hacked by malicious individuals, causing short and long-term damage to your online reputation.

Careless digital habits leave individuals vulnerable to scams, physical harm, and identity fraud at the hands of online hackers. And with more users than ever before using the internet to access daily resources, the risks associated with a digital presence are rapidly changing.

Unsafe internet surfing may also lead to other threats like getting mixed up with the wrong people and having personal photographs or comments put online that is then almost impossible to completely erase.

With that in mind, there are many things you can do to ensure your digital safety. Let’s get right into it!

What is Digital Safety?

what is digital safety

Digital safety is the act of remaining safe on all digital platforms. More commonly known as cyber safety, it encompasses all types of technological devices that have access to the internet from laptops to mobile devices.

Digital safety is to have an awareness of any potential threats that you might encounter while actively using the internet. This could include managing and protecting your data, security threats, or even simply avoiding illegal content.

Digital safety means protecting your mobile devices, laptops, tablets, and other devices connected to the internet from potential intruders or threats – in the form of phishing or hacking, for example. 

From two-step authentication to VPNs, there are many important ways you can protect yourself while online and safeguard your online safety.

Cyber Safety and Hacking

cyber safety and hacking

Cyber safety

Cybersecurity is the process and technology designed to protect devices and networks from attacks, unauthorized access, or damage. Because data is the cornerstone of any business, cybersecurity has become an essential part of the running of multiple corporations and organizations around the world.

If this data were to be exploited, there could be extremely detrimental risks. Cyber safety also refers to the act of being able to remain responsible and safe online, in a world where constant threats are made to our security and safety. 

Cyber safety generally protects all types of data from damage or theft, allowing you to live a much more peaceful digital life.

Hacking

Hacking is the act of using existing technology or knowledge to break into computer systems and exploit their vulnerabilities

It means that individuals may get unauthorized access to your network, account, or device. Once this has been granted they will then have complete control over transactions and might proceed to misuse your account for illegal purposes, which could compromise your digital presence.

If a hacker gets full access to your online information then they can cause a lot of damage such as blocking access to the system, gaining access to other devices, or even gathering a lot of your data that exists online.

There are a few types of hackers, split into the following categories:

  • Black Hat Hackers: these individuals are often the bad guys in movies. They illegally hack into systems for personal gain, using your information to steal identities and money.
  • Gray Hat Hackers: are the people who mess around in the gray area of hacking. They might now have malicious intentions but they are not concerned with following laws exactly and may hack into different systems without permission.
  • White Hat Hackers: these people are ethical penetration hackers who are hired by the organization they are hacking. They find vulnerabilities before “real” hackers can get to them first.

Importance of Digital Safety

Importance of Digital Safety

While cybersecurity works to protect networks and devices from harm by multiple third parties, digital safety works to protect them from harm via education, awareness, technology, and information.

If you want to truly understand just how important internet safety is then you must understand all of the risks or dangers associated with having unsecured internet access.

The internet is a huge part of our day-to-day lives. Whatever view you have of the internet, it’s clear to see that it has infected almost every part of our current society, and has completely altered the way that we all deal and engage with different information.

It’s great being able to stay in touch with friends and family a little further away at the click of a single button via the internet, but it also means that we put ourselves into a vulnerable position where the slightest mishap could result in our online safety being compromised. 

The internet is often a very unforgiving place. The way people are increasingly engaging with the digital world can be a real cause for concern at times, especially when it comes to giving out your personal data to others.

But as long as you remain aware of how to remain safe in a digital world, you should find no issues browsing online.

15 Crucial Steps to Ensure Online Safety

steps to online safety

1. Educate yourself

With the right knowledge about online safety, children and adults alike can better understand all of the dangers associated with releasing personal information into the world, as well as how to recognize when someone is demonstrating unethical behavior online.

Even if you’re taking all the right steps and precautions for your home security network, it sometimes might not be enough to keep the hackers away.

Make sure that everyone who ever uses your network is aware of how to keep it secure.

2. Use strong passwords

There are a few key ways of safeguarding yourself against identity theft online. Using a strong and unpredictable password is one of the most effective methods!

The main thing you need to make sure you avoid is sticking with more simplistic password patterns, such as the word “password,” your name, or numbers in chronological order.

These are easy to guess, and you’d be surprised at just how many people still use this type of password today!  You should also avoid using any details that might crop up in a password reset in your actual password because, again, this can be quite predictable! 

The best kind of password is one that you will remember but will be extremely difficult for other people to guess. This includes hackers and malicious programs that are designed to experiment with nearly every type of password combination to guess what your password is for a specific account.

You might want to try using a passphrase or an abbreviated sentence as these are often much more complicated than single words. Add in some numbers and symbols and you’ve got yourself a very strong password!

If you struggle to make a password yourself, you can try a password manager. This will create a unique password for nearly all of your online accounts.

Make sure to change your passwords on every account a couple of times each year!

3. Do not open emails from strangers

The threat of phishing scams shouldn’t be underestimated.  Phishing scams utilize fraudulent emails and websites to trick all users into disclosing private login or account information, which could have detrimental consequences to your online safety.

They are usually disguised as texts or emails containing legitimate sources to make them more believable.  Do not open any attachments or any pop-up screens that might appear from sources you don’t truly know.

Make sure to forward any suspicious phishing emails to the relevant government body, and the company that the hacker is trying to imitate.

This will protect you while making them aware of the potential scam going around. This could not only safeguard your online safety but may also prevent it from happening to others.

If you receive a phishing email from strangers that has malware attached to it, you don’t need to download the attachment for it to cause some significant damage to your home network!

This is because these drive-by downloads can inadvertently download malware onto your hard drive without your agreement or knowledge.

In some cases, it might present itself to you as a simple system update – meaning even the most computer literate person might be fooled!

As a result of this, it’s best never to open any emails from addresses that aren’t in your contacts, or that you don’t know.

4. Avoid sharing personal information

It can be quite easy to overshare on the internet. You might be surprised by just how much damage a cybercriminal can do with even the smallest amount of information!

Thanks to developments in their technique, hackers now have the power and ability to use social media accounts to work out what your passwords are, and then correctly answer all of the security questions after clicking password reset.

If you want to protect yourself, your best bet is to never share any personal information on any of your social media accounts. Make sure to lock your privacy settings and avoid posting about private details that may crop up such as your financial information, your old school name, the names of previous pets, your mother’s maiden name, or birthdays.

Be mindful of the usernames that you set for different websites as this could also compromise your digital safety. There is no reason why they must include your real name!

On social media platforms like Facebook, you should be wary of accepting any type of connection request from individuals that you don’t know.

This will ensure that you aren’t sharing the more intimate details of your life with a stranger.

5. Do not click on strange links

Another way of staying safe online is to avoid clicking on any strange links that you encounter. Viruses and malware are given the leeway to spread as you click on a link that was sent by someone that you know. 

If you are ever on the receiving end of a strange link that has typos or subtle misspellings from a family member or a trusted friend, make sure to directly contact them to question whether the link that you have received was sent on purpose.

If you are too impatient to wait for a response from said family member or friend, then it’s best if you copy and paste the link into a trusted link checker online.

But whatever you do, do not click the link!  Essentially, you should never click on a link unless you are sure it is 100% legitimate. Randomly clicking on said links can put you at significant risk of malware that is solely intended to disable or damage your computer.

Though this means that you may have to wait a little while to watch the video in the link, it’s always best to err on the side of caution if you can!

6. Be smart with your financial information

Another crucial step in ensuring your online safety is to be smart with all of your financial information. This one might be a little bit self-explanatory, but keeping your financial information private is the best way to ensure digital safety.

Be cautious with where you enter information such as your credit card number online as you don’t know who has full access to it! Make sure the website’s URL begins with “https://” – with the “S” on the end – as this indicates that you have an encrypted connection.

Never make any purchases from websites that do not have this!  You should also think twice before saving any of your financial information to a website that you buy from.

Even if you are a frequent shopper on that particular website or service, storing your financial information could potentially make it much easier for hackers to steal and access your data if the company or website experiences a data breach.

It might be a good idea to look for secure web pages when you are looking to translate. This will ensure that your financial data is kept as safe as possible.

7. Make sure your devices are up to date

Keeping mobile devices and computers up to date is another excellent way to stay safe online.  Having the latest security software, operating system, and web browser installed will likely be your greatest defense against online threats including malware and viruses. 

If you haven’t already done it, then make sure to turn on automatic updates so that you always receive the newest fixes as they become readily available.

Software updates typically include a variety of critical fixes for holes in security that might have previously been detected in your devices and programs.

If you do not keep your devices up to date then you could potentially allow malware to exploit many of the loopholes that tend to exist in all types of the developed software.

These vulnerabilities can be exploited within only a few hours of becoming known, which could put you and your data at significant risk!

Simply put, never click “remind me later” on any updates that you are notified about as you could be putting yourself and your online presence at risk of being exploited by hackers and being infected with system-altering malware.

8. Back up your data often

If you ever find yourself becoming a victim of ransomware or other types of malware, there is a high possibility that you will not be able to recover your information.

That is unless you have managed to back up all of your data.  Data backup is a vital part of data protection. A weekly or daily backup will save your most important files from a data loss situation that might occur due to malware infection, system crash, or a hard drive failure or corruption.

When backing up your data you are making the chances for specific types of security breaches much less problematic than they would otherwise be.

For instance, if a hacker manages to encrypt your data and demands a financial sum to un-encrypt it, it will likely not be as big of a deal if you managed to back up your data the week before.

Backing up your data is also a far more straightforward way of potentially recovering lost files. It saves a lot of time and money than you’d otherwise be spending on restoring all of your lost data.

Without a proper backup, restoring your data will become a much more complex situation. 

9. Use a two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication gives you the tools to add a layer of security to your account in case your password is stolen or compromised. The security provided by this step extends way beyond simply being a username or password.

It lets you quickly and easily verify a user's identity within the second form of identification. Not only does this give you peace of mind but it also might increase your productivity knowing that all of your details are safe and secure.

Two-factor authentication requires you to verify your identity with a secondary login method after logging in to a specific website using your username and password.

In many cases, you might be asked to verify your identity by entering a code that is sent via email or text message.  In other circumstances, you will need to answer security questions.

Every service or website will be different but you will generally find the options for such security measures within your account.  Whenever the option for two-factor authentication becomes available you should opt-in.

Yes, it might make the process of logging into your accounts a little more tedious, but it will make it far less likely that others will be able to access the information in your accounts! 

10. Avoid using unsecured public WiFi

You must avoid using unsecured public WiFi all of the time if you can help it. Using these services can make you very vulnerable to predatory behavior by hackers and other individuals looking to exploit all of your data. 

If you must use public WiFi then you should avoid entering any compromising information at all times. For example, you should never enter your financial information or your Social Security number on any website.

If you want to make sure that you are safe online, you can use a virtual private network (a VPN) when you are doing your browsing outside of your home.

This will work to encrypt all of the data that you send and receive, which makes it harder for hackers to intercept it. Instead, you can opt to use your mobile data.

This is usually encrypted and is a great alternative if you do not have a secure website or VPN encryption available to use. It’s also a great option when you are putting your information into specific apps as it can sometimes be difficult to know whether they are encrypted or not.

11. Turn your auto-fill off on devices

Turning auto-fill off is also another great way to be smart with your online safety. Whenever you save your username and password on a specific website, your password manager will remember it.

From this point onwards the manager will automatically complete the boxes on the webpage, regardless of whether you can see them or not.

Auto-fill automatically fills out forms with your financial and personal information which can be incredibly convenient but also very dangerous at times, especially if your phone lands in the wrong hands!

Having these details pre-filled can be very incriminating especially if your private information ends up exposed to hackers everywhere. Plus, some third-party advertising scripts are beginning to use these auto-fill forms to track you and your online activity.

It might sound a little simple, but you can mitigate a lot of risk from such malicious scripts by simply turning off auto-fill on all of your devices.

It might become a bit tedious having to type out all of your details each time you make a payment or want to login to a specific website, but it’s a great way of guaranteeing your online safety!

12. Turn on erase data setting

One of the other steps you can take to ensure online safety is to turn on the erase data settings on your phone.  If you find yourself in a situation where your smartphone has been stolen or is lost, and hackers are trying to access your private information, it can be extremely stressful.

This is a worst-case scenario but is worth thinking about.  Thankfully, there’s a solution: turn on the erase data settings. Or, in simple terms, altering your phone’s settings so that your phone is ready to self-destruct before malicious individuals can access your data.

It factory resets your mobile device and deletes all of the content and settings from your settings so that nobody can access the information. 

Another option is to have your phone automatically self-destruct if too many failed passcode attempts have taken place. Yes, it might seem like an extreme security measure, but there’s nothing better than knowing you are safe online!

Plus, it will give you extreme peace of mind in case your phone slips from your hands.

13. Do not jailbreak

We aren’t talking about a game of Monopoly when we say this. Jailbreaking your phone involves exploiting all of the flaws of an electronic device to install software outside of the manufacturer’s approval.

It’s called jailbreaking as it frees users from the “jail” of limitations that are usually perceived to exist and grants them access to bypass all protections that have been purposely put in place.

Jailbreaking your smartphone means you avoid the manufacturer’s restrictions and have complete control over the operating system of your device, but this isn’t always a good thing.

On a jailbroken Apple iPhone, for example, you will be able to download and use apps taken from places other than the official app store.

However great this may seem, jailbreaking is not recommended due to the lack of security it provides.  Apple considers jailbreaking to be a complete violation of the terms and conditions, leaving these devices open to:

  • Potential freezes and crashes
  • A shorter battery life
  • Security vulnerabilities
  • Issues with device stability

Though it’s a legal practice, it’s not entirely safe. Jailbreaking phones provide an opportunity for cybercriminals to swoop in and hack your phone, stealing all of your private data as they go.

You’re essentially giving up your rights to security in the face of threats.

14. Set strong passwords

Passwords provide the first line of defense against any unauthorized access to your device. The stronger your password is, the more protected your device will be against malicious software and hackers!

As mentioned above, setting and using strong passwords that are not easily predicted is the way forward. You also don’t want to use any of your personal information such as your name, the names of your family members, or your address in a password as this can often be quite easy for a hacker to guess, even more so if they have a full record of all of your details!

Make sure to avoid using consecutive keyboard combinations to keep things a little confusing for hackers. You should use a mix of various characters, upper and lower case letters, and symbols to create your password – which should be at least eight characters long.

Websites will usually prompt you about the length of your password.  Remember, the more potent the password, the harder it will be to guess! This will all but guarantee your safety online.

Change your passwords regularly to make sure they remain strong in the face of malicious software or individuals. You must also make sure that nobody is watching as you begin to type in your password.

If someone is looking over your shoulder, politely request that they turn their attention away from you.

15. Read site privacy policies

We live in a data-centric world where companies collect, use, and sell user information with our consent, but without knowing exactly how they do it.

As the number of data breaches continues to rise, consumers are becoming more anxious about online protection and the effectiveness of privacy policies.

One way of protecting yourself online is understanding how organizations use personal information before giving it to them.  All reputable websites will have a strong privacy policy in place.

In many countries, privacy policies are a legal requirement! Keep an eye out for a privacy policy on every website that you encounter.  You don’t need to worry if you struggle to understand everything about these policies.

They can often be written using overly-complicated legal jargon that, to the average person, can be hard to wrap your head around at the best of times. 

Yet if you want to get a basic understanding of the way that the website will use your data as you browse the website, there are ways of filtering your search for keywords and terms like “store,” “third-party,” and “data.”

This will also allow you to better understand the information in the privacy policy.  If you discover that a specific website doesn’t have a privacy policy, your best bet might be to close the tab and look elsewhere.

You don’t want to risk your data being exposed to the wrong kinds of people.

Summary

This concludes everything you need to know in the beginner’s guide to digital safety. By following all of these steps you can safeguard yourself from malicious software and people and prevent them from having access to your private information. 

Learning how to be safe online isn’t an overly complicated process if you take the necessary precautions. Thankfully, there are many ways of guaranteeing that your data is protected at all times such as changing your passwords, two-factor authentication, and keeping all incriminating private information on any digital platform.

As technology continues to develop, the counter-tech of hackers around the world also develops. So it’s important to remain vigilant and ahead of the curve to ensure that no personal details are freely shared with the wrong people.


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