Yesterday was the 10th annual “Safer Internet Day”.  Safer internet day is organized by Insafe in February of each year to promote more responsible use of online technology and mobile phones. In honor of that, here are a couple of easy to follow tips to keep you and your family safer online. While nothing is foolproof, or 100% secure, taking these steps will make your browsing experience a much safer one, and could possibly deter someone who is trying to gain access to your information.

Make sure that all of your passwords are different and strong.

Keeping one password for all of your online activity may be easy to remember but you’re setting yourself up for major problems if that password is discovered.  If you use the same password for all of your online accounts, someone that breaches one account can easily gain access to all of them.

Simple passwords like your favorite color are easier to crack as well. Using words that are commonly found in a dictionary leave you much more vulnerable to attacks than using something complicated. For example, if someone knows that your dog’s name is “penny” simply trying that might grant them access to one or more of your accounts.

Try changing it to “P3nny”, this will make it much harder to crack, but making it “P3nny$” is even more secure. To go for something easier to remember, try using a simple phrase with no spacing.  “PennyIsMyDogsName” is a very secure password, and something that you’ll be more apt to remember. Try doing it backwards if that still seems too simple “emaNsgoDyMsIynneP” is a pretty solid choice.

Although different methods of creating secure passwords exist, and are always debated on, finding yourself something you feel comfortable with, and sticking to using it will help keep your information more secure.

Some general guidelines are:

  • Choose non-standard words or phrases. Spell your favorite word wrong.
  • Substitute numbers or symbols for letters.
  • Mix upper and lower case letters.
  • Use multiple words with no spaces.
  • Do all of the above.

It has even been suggested that using four random words might just be the most secure method:

XKCD: Password Strength

XKCD Comic Password Strength

Keep your web browser up to date

Web browser programmers are constantly updating their software to patch newly found security risks. By not updating your web browser, you are leaving yourself open to attacks through unpatched exploits.

Keep your anti-virus software up to date

If you’re running an out of date anti-virus package, it’s like blocking a drain with a sieve. It can block some attacks, but some will get through. Make sure that you set your anti-virus software to automatically update about once a day and you should be much more secure.

Secure your wireless connection

Be sure to protect your home wireless connection with a strong password.  Use the WPA2 protocol if your router and gadgets support it. Choose normal WPA over WEP, while both are easily cracked, WEP is definitely the weakest. Both, however, are more secure than leaving your network wide open.

An open network can allow someone to “sniff” out the packets of data that you send across the internet, and possibly access your personal information. Leaving your network open could also lead to someone gaining access to the machines on your network, and the data stored on them.

Also, change the default network name (usually referred to as the SSID, or Service Set Identifier in your router’s set-up screen). The SSID is basically a friendly network name that helps you identify the network that you are connecting to.

Most routers come with the generic SSID matching the manufacturer’s name such as”Linksys” or “Netgear” Renaming your network gives hackers one less piece of information about it. Pick a unique name for your network that doesn’t offer up information as to who you are. For example: don’t name it “Smith Family”.

Shop Safely

Only shop from online sources that you trust completely.  If something looks too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t buy anything directly from a link sent to you in an email (see Phishing below). When using your favorite online retailers, don’t store your credit card information on their servers. Only shop on connections using a secure website. Look for https:// and a padlock icon in your browser’s address bar to be sure you are shopping on a secure connection.

Install a password/passcode on your phone

A lost phone is a gateway to all sorts of personal information. Setting your phone up with a password keeps that information safe in case of loss or theft.

Be aware of spam and phishing

Email and social networks are both equally susceptible to spam. It is the electronic equivalent of junk mail, but much more dangerous. It is a good idea to set up your junk mail filters on your email account. Start with a medium setting and check your junk mail folder periodically to make sure that you’re not missing any mail that you want to see. Increase the level of filtering if it isn’t catching enough.

Phishing attacks are often initiated through spam email, but can also be found on social networks. Phishers use spam or links to malicious websites to collect your personal information or gain access to unprotected systems. A common example of this is the Nigerian 401 scams, or an email from a financial institution asking you to reset your password by clicking on a link in your email that will lead you to a site that looks like the site of the institution that you’re used to viewing.

Most legitimate companies will never ask you to email them personal information. If in doubt, don’t click or respond. Visit the institution’s website directly, by entering the URL you know to be good in your browser window, or call their customer service line.

Resources

More information can be found here: http://www.staysafeonline.org/ and here: http://www.saferinternetday.org/web/guest