Safer Internet Day: Five Ways You Can Enhance Your Safety Online

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The annual Safer Internet Day Campaign aims to grow awareness of the harms people see and experience online.

Governments are placing more security and privacy obligations on providers of internet services, however the scale of nefarious activity in the digital world means that the users must also take action to ensure that they and their loved ones stay safe.

The good news is that there are a range of easily accessible methods to improve your security and safety online – creating awareness of these is vital.

Here are five ways online users can enhance their safety online while using the internet.

1. Limit the Amount of Personal Information on Social Media Accounts

Social engineering attacks are becoming increasingly tailored and sophisticated. A key means of achieving this is leveraging the vast amount of personal data many people provide about themselves and their lives on their social media accounts.

This information can be used to create sophisticated social engineering campaigns that lure these individuals, and potentially their family and friends, into scams.

Malicious actors can also use information openly available on social media accounts for other nefarious activities, such as guessing passwords for other online accounts and identity theft.

Experts advise that you limit the amount of personal data you make available to others on social media. This can include not using your full name, date of birth, home address and avoiding specifying your relationship with others.

Individuals can also update privacy and security settings on social media accounts, such as limiting the information anyone outside of your friends/followers are able to view.

2. Strengthen Online Authentication

Amid increasingly sophisticated tools and techniques used by malicious actors online, basic human factors still account for the vast majority of cyber and fraud incidents.

A key tactic used to breach people’s personal data, including payment information, is breached credentials – most commonly, passwords.

This was highlighted during the breach of DNA testing firm 23andMe in October 2023, leading to nearly 7 million customers’ data being accessed. In this case, the attackers used a credential stuffing campaign, attempting to log in to user accounts via credentials stolen in separate breaches.

This example emphasizes the need to use unique passwords for every online account, and regularly updating them. Another tip to reduce the chances of your credentials being compromised is to use different usernames for different online accounts, avoiding using your email address where possible.

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) should also be employed for all applicable online accounts. MFA provides an additional layer of protection in case your username and password are compromised.

Finally, many organizations, including tech giants Microsoft, Apple and Google, are starting to offer passwordless alternatives for authenticating online accounts, such as passkeys and biometrics. These options should be taken up whenever available to better protect your personal information.

3. Demand Better Security and Privacy Protections From Organizations

Research has demonstrated that consumers are increasingly aware of data privacy and security matters, these issues are even influencing purchasing decisions.

It is important that consumers demand better security and privacy practices from organizations they share their personal information with – including clear policies around data collection and use.

If you are not satisfied that your data is being used or protected appropriately, you should stop using that service.

In an interview with Infosecurity Magazine, Joe Jones, Director of Research and Insights for the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP) said it is important consumers take more control over their personal data, and make choices on who they share it with based on the value they receive in return.

4. Avoid Clicking on Malicious Websites

There are many malicious and harmful websites on the internet, such as those tricking users into entering sensitive information and infecting their device with malware.

Malicious sites often closely mimic genuine websites, using similar layouts and logos. Others purport to offer services that cannot be accessed via legitimate channels, such as streaming live sporting events.

This means you should be highly vigilant when searching and clicking on unfamiliar websites. This includes when using search engines to find a service. Many threat actors are leveraging search engine optimization services, such as Google, to push their malicious sites to the top of search results.

There are a range of signs you should look for to detect a malicious site. Some basic ones are checking the URL to see if it is misspelt or looks unusual. Those sites asking for sensitive personal information should be treated with caution.

A secure website’s URL should begin with ‘https’ rather than ‘http’, which is a subtle sign to check for.

Additionally, you should ensure you install the most up-to-date version of your web browsers. Web browser providers are developing sophisticated filters to identify and warn of potential security threats.

5. Keep Your Children Safe Online

A major theme of Safer Internet Day is promoting the safe, responsible and positive use of digital technology for children and young people.

Protecting children from harmful content online, such as sexual abuse imagery, online grooming and cyber bullying, forms a key part of the UK’s Online Safety Act, which passed into law in October 2023.

There are a range of measures parents, guardians and other adult authority figures can take to prevent children viewing harmful content online. These include:

  • Education: Parents must educate children on the dangers of the internet and what behaviors are acceptable in the online world – in the same way as they do for the physical world. This will require parents to educate themselves on the online harms children can be exposed to.
  • Controls: There are a range of safeguarding technologies available to help parents manage children’s use of the internet, reducing the chances of them engaging in dangerous online behavior. 

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