How to stay safe online

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IN light of the recent WannaCry ransomware attack that brought large parts of the NHS to a standstill and infected computers all over the world, follow these top security tips to keep you safe online…

1. Update your software
Always apply updates to your operating system and software as soon as they become available. Many malware infections are the result of software vulnerabilities that aren’t patched.

2. Use strong passwords
People still commonly use passwords that are easy to guess such as 123456, password, 12345, qwerty and 12345678. Hackers can break these passwords in seconds using password cracking software. Ideally, a strong password should consist of nine or more characters using a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. These are very difficult to crack even for password cracking software. They may be difficult to remember but you can use a password manager tool to both secure them and remember them.

3. Antivirus software
Good antivirus software will keep you safe from all types of viruses and ransomware as well as phishing emails, malicious links and websites that contain hidden malware.

4. Be careful shopping online
Fraudsters often set up bogus websites to try and fool users into parting with their personal information. These websites can include malicious links that will infect your computer, if you click on them, with malware designed to steal your personal information. Some websites are also set up fraudulently to mimic real websites so you need to exercise some caution and be assured that the website is legitimate.

5. Check the website URL
Look at the URL of a website to ensure it is legitimate and secure. Secured websites begin with ‘https’ which means it is secured using an SSL certificate. SSL certificates secure your data as it is passed from your browser to the website’s server. To receive an SSL certificate, a company must go through a validation process. If the website begins with ‘http’ only – and does not have the ‘s’ at the end – it means it is not secure.

6. Be careful when using social media platforms
Fraudsters trawl social media platforms looking for information that can be used for criminal activity. This can range from addresses to personal information such as birthdays, pet names, and even where you bank. Be sure to familiarise yourself with the privacy settings on the social media platforms you use and make sure you apply them. This restricts your posts to friends and family, (i.e. only the people you want to see your posts), while blocking strangers and potential fraudsters.

7. Keep an eye on children’s online activities
Teach children about the risks they may encounter online such as infected links, inappropriate content and the danger of oversharing. You can also use parental controls to discretely monitor what they do online.
It’s packed with practical advice and tips to help parents keep their children safe online.

8. Monitor online gaming
Many online games have a feature that allows a gamer to buy in-game items and add-ons for real money. It’s not unusual to see hundreds of pounds disappear as children innocently make purchases if you have card details linked to the account. At the same time parents should also set up a specific email account for game registrations to ensure email accounts that hold addresses, contact information and online banking information are kept separate from the game account.

Paul Lipman, CEO at consumer security company BullGuard concludes: ‘The WannaCry attack was a wake-up call for a lot of people but the reality is that these attacks happen all the time. The irony is that many of them can be stopped by applying some basic security measures.’

‘Attacks of this scale and nature will most certainly happen again but if people can get into the habit of applying a few simple security steps they can stay safe online. Many of these precautions are very straightforward yet they avert a lot of trouble when applied.’

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