Protect Yourself Online: Tips To Secure Your Internet Life

The Sensis Social Media Report 2017 found that virtually everyone in Australia is on the internet, and 56% of us are on it more than five times a day. On average, we each own three internet-enabled devices. That’s a lot of internet! It’s important to protect yourself online

Our reliance on it raises important questions about cybersecurity. For example, what actually is cybersecurity, does it have anything to do with the Russians, and how do we avoid getting hacked? With more people, programs and processes online than ever before, it’s important to know how to protect your online world and operate safely in this space.

Here are our tips to protect yourself online:

Privacy is a fallacy

“The main risk with being online is that we assume what we do is private, when that isn’t the case at all,” says Amy Gray, board member of Digital Rights Watch (DRW). DRW educates and advocates for personal safety and privacy online, helping ensure the internet is a fair, open and democratic space.

For all the convenience that our online worlds afford us, Gray says it’s important to remember that not all websites are created equal. Many are vulnerable to attack, which means your most personal details could be found easily. “When you spend time online doing life admin or work, or just entertaining yourself, you’re leaving a trail of data that others can find,” she says.

Get smarter with passwords

Put simply, “people are really poor at picking good passwords,” says Leonie Simpson, Senior Lecturer of Computer Science and Information Security at Queensland University of Technology. She’s not wrong. SplashData’s list of the worst, most common passwords for 2011 to 2015 included ‘123456’, ‘password’ and ‘12345678’. Predictable words like ‘welcome’ and ‘login’ also featured in the list. Simpson says this needs to change.

The FBI recommends covering webcams, and even Mark Zuckerberg does it.

“As a user, you don’t really know how well organisations look after information, like your passwords. Using different passwords at different sites minimises the potential damage to you if a site storing your information is breached.”

According to the Australian Government’s guide, Protect Yourself Online, it’s also important to have strong passwords. That means a minimum of eight characters, a mix of upper and lower-case letters, at least one number and at least one symbol.

It’s also recommended that where possible, you set up two-factor authentication, in which a secondary piece of information is required to access an account. It’s usually a word or code sent to your email, phone or device to verify you as a legitimate user.

Cover your cameras

If you told someone 50 years ago that in the future everyone would have cameras on their computers, and that they’d be taped over to avoid being spied on, they’d call you crazy. Or they’d steal the idea for a futuristic, sci-fi novel. Either way, it’d be unbelievable. But here we are – the FBI and Mark Zuckerberg included – covering our cameras.

“I always cover my laptop camera. It can be done easily with a sticker, piece of tape; whatever is close to hand. I would recommend that for any camera-enabled device. With phones it pays to go through your settings to make sure apps don’t have access to your camera,” says Gray.

Simpson said the same vigilance is required for headphones and microphones. Referred to as “jack-retasking”, devices for listening can be turned into devices that listen to you. Creepy, right?

“We let apps access all the features of our phones; things we should manually control. Go through your phone permissions! People don’t secure their internet-enabled appliances or their home networks which leaves everything vulnerable,” says Gray.

Ok, you’ve been hacked

Having your devices comprised can range from mildly inconvenient to truly damaging says Simpson. If it happens, chances are you won’t even know the full extent of the breach.

“Some things like passwords can be easily changed, but some things can’t—like your name and your date of birth. These are fixed; you can’t just reset them,” says adds.

If you’ve been hacked (or think you’ve been hacked), Gray suggests you:

  • Run a virus check and set up an automatic virus checker to sweep your device regularly
  • Change all your passwords and ensure each one is unique
  • Contact your bank immediately and review any suspicious transactions
  • Review your social media accounts to confirm nothing has been posted by someone else
  • Let your contacts know you’ve been hacked and ask if anyone has received anything suspicious.

While Simpson says, “we’re likely to see more cybercrime in the future, not less,” it doesn’t mean you have to ditch the web, run for the hills and live as a hermit. The internet is an integral part of our lives and a space which can be navigated safely. It’s just about being sensible and taking the right precautions to protect yourself online.

Izzy Tolhurst is a copywriter and editor. She writes about music, the arts, employment and international development. She also sings and plays an impressively amateur level of guitar in Melbourne band Go Get Mum. Find her rambling on Twitter @izzytolhurst.