How to be safe online
By Greg E. Niemeyer, North Dallas Bank and Trust, North Dallas LIVING WELL Magazine
Make the online world a safer place
In today’s fast-paced world, computers and mobile devices are not only must-have gadgets, they’re essential to daily life. From social networking and e-mailing to research, online shopping and more, people are connected more than ever before. And since the Internet is the new medium for interaction, business and communication, it’s more important than ever to be safe and secure when using it.
Protect your devices
- Be up to date. Download the latest version of the tools you use frequently. That includes antivirus software, malware programs and web browsers, to name a few.
- Turn on automatic updates. Most antivirus and malware software companies update their systems with “fixes” against the latest threats daily. Do the same.
- If it uses the Internet, secure it. This means computers, mobile phones, gaming systems and anything else that connects to the Internet .
- If it plugs into your computer, secure it. Make sure your USB drives, flash drives and external hard drives are protected as well, just to be sure.
Keep personal information to yourself
- Go beyond the password. Many providers offer a variety of new ways to protect your account, such as personal images, codes and other verification processes. It may take an extra step to access your account, but it’s worth it.
- The more complex your password, the better. Use numbers and letters together. Throw a symbol in there. If it’s hard for you to remember, think of how hard it will be for thieves to figure out.
- Every account gets a separate password. If every account you have has the same password, you’ll be in real trouble if a crook ever figures it out.
- Write passwords down. Keep a list of all your passwords in a safe place, and make sure it’s not near your computer. It’s easy to forget passwords, and you’ll need a backup from time to time, so be smart about it.
- Call the shots. On sites like Facebook or Twitter, don’t just settle for default privacy settings. Set them yourself with whatever level you’re comfortable with.
- In public, keep technology a hands-on experience. Never leave a laptop or phone out in the open at a restaurant, coffee shop or other busy area. It only takes a second for things to disappear.
Make secure connections
- Never click unless you’re 100% sure. Attachments in an e-mail can download viruses. And be especially wary on everything from e-mail and tweets to online advertising. Criminals often use these venues to compromise your computer.
- Use Wi-Fi hotspots with caution. Be careful using a public connection. Adjusting your settings is a good way to make sure things stay private.
- Secure your cash. Never bank or shop on an unsecured site. An easy rule of thumb: If the web address begins with “https://” or “shttp://”, it’s secure. “Http://” is not.
Use common sense
- Be on top of current web safety trends. Check trusted industry websites frequently to keep up on the latest Internet threats and spread the word.
- Think twice about clicking. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. And if someone wants you to “act immediately,” you probably shouldn’t. In either case, a smart precaution is to call the person or company directly using an independently verified phone number to see if they are legitimate.
- Have a backup system. Make copies. Store data to external hard drives. There are many ways to ensure against losing work, music, photos and data.
Alert the authorities
- If your finances or identity are stolen over the Internet, or you’ve witnessed any other crime online, report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
- In the case of fraud, your best bet is to report it to the Federal Trade Commission at onguardonline.gov/file-complaint.aspx.
- It may also be a good idea to involve your local law enforcement or state attorney general as well.
Create an Internet safe zone
Education and preparation are the best defense against online crime. The more you know, the more secure you’ll be. Follow the guidelines above and discover new ones on your own. It’ll make your online activities—and the Internet itself—a safer place.
Author Gregory E. Niemeyer is the executive vice president at North Dallas Bank & Trust.