Safer Internet Day: tips to keep you safe online

Ashley
Online shopping with credit card

Today, 8 February 2022, is Safer Internet day. So we thought we'd take this opportunity to share some tips on how to stay safe online.

There is also an infographic that can you view and download with all the tips.

We also have a page with aphasia-specific advice for getting online. You can view this page by clicking on this link: https://mystrokeguide.com/information-and-advice/aphasia-and-communication/getting-online

We've also added some definitions at the end of this post. So if you aren't sure of some of the words, try scrolling down to the bottom.

Online safety best practices

There are a few best practices you can follow to help keep yourself safe online. We've outlined some of these below.

If you want to talk to someone about protecting yourself online, please get in touch with AbilityNet. They can help you with free IT support at home. Just click this link to find out more.

There is also an infographic you can download for an easy reference guide. You can find more information on each point below the infographic.

Online safety infographic - My Stroke Guide

Passwords

You should always use a password that is strong and unique. And when I say 'unique', I mean unique for every site. Do not use the same password for different sites like Facebook and Amazon.

This is really tough, I know. But it is so important. If you struggle to remember passwords, think about using a password manager like LastPass or Bitwarden. And if you are still struggling with passwords, most sites have an easy way to change your password. Some even have a "magic link", so you can login after following a link sent to your email.

To create a strong password, try using a word or phrase that you will remember. For example, I might want to use the phrase: "I like the colour blue." I can turn this into a password by replacing some of the letters with numbers or symbols. I might even decide to abbreviate some of the words and leave some spaces in. Not all sites let you use spaces, though, so you can use dashes or underscores or plus symbols in their place.

So then "I like the colour blue" turns into "!Lik3 the C0£ourB!u3", which is a much more secure password.

Sharing information

You should never share your account details or personally identifiable information when you're online. Whether you're using Facebook or writing a product review on a shopping site, you need to think very carefully about what information you are sharing.

Always consider whether someone could identify you from the information you have provided. You want to ask yourself: "Could someone work out where you live from this information?"

For example, I might want to post this comment and picture on the My Stroke Guide forum:

Leafy trees in park
(Image from Google Street View)

"The trees in Sefton Park are looking beautiful today...this was right from my front door!"

From this picture and comment, someone seeing this now know that I live right next to this particular park. It wouldn't take much for them to put this information together with my name to cause me real problems.

So instead, I could write:

"Look at this scene! Just love this park."

Your friends and family will know that you live near that park, but now no one else does.

Stay up to date

You should always ensure your computer, phone and/or table are always kept up to date. This includes any software or antivirus you use.

Many software and other updates include security patches. These patches are developed to combat new viruses and threats.

I mentioned keeping antivirus up to date. It is very important that you have antivirus and firewall software installed on your internet enabled devices.

Secure connection

Whenever you connect to the internet, you should always do so through a secure connection. This is to prevent people from stealing your information when it passes through the WiFi network.

To do this at home, you will want to have a password on your WiFi and possible even encrypt your router. If you aren't sure how to set a WiFi password, get in touch with your network provider and they can help.

You should also avoid using public WiFi networks where possible. Especially for making purchases or doing banking. If you do need to use public WiFi, you might want to look into using what is known as a VPN or Virtual Private Network.

A VPN is a way to encrypt the data you send over the Internet without having to rely on the security of your actual WiFi connection.

Trusted sites

When you do make a purchase online, make sure that you are only entering payment details on known and secure shopping sites.

Identifying secure sites can be tricky. But there are a few checks you can make.

Make sure the site is encrypted. So look for the HTTPS and the little lock image in the URL. See the screenshot at the top of this post if you aren't sure what this means.

You should also look at reviews for the site. You'll want to keep an eye out for negative reviews saying that their items never arrived. If there aren't any reviews for the site at all, that could be a sign that things aren't on the level.

If you aren't sure whether a site is secure or something doesn't feel right, remember: it's better to be safe.

Educate yourself about scams

You need to be on your guard whenever you are online. Scams are always changing and getting more clever. There are some tips we can offer, though.

Don't click on links in emails or social media messages if they don't look right. Make sure that the person you are talking to is really who they say they are before you give them any information.

If you receive an email or text that looks like it is from your bank or your GP asking you to click a link or provide account details, don't do it straight away. Contact your bank or GP using the phone number or app you have always used. Ask them to verify that the email or text is authentic.

If you want to learn more about ways to avoid online scams, here are some resources from AgeUK (pdf) and AbilityNet.

Staying safe on social media

Many of us enjoy using social media as a way to stay in contact with friends and family we don't see often. You may even use it to meet new people or chat with groups and communities you would never have otherwise known.

But social media sites can be an easy way for people to get access to information about you. Using that information to scam you.

There are many things you can do to stay safe on social media.

  • Pick a username with no personal information in it--never use your actual name or birth date
  • Never give out your personal information or account details
  • Use a strong password, even if it is just the site you use to share pictures of your pets
  • Review your privacy settings so only people who know you can view your details
  • Be careful before using your social media account for external applications, including games
  • Always double check before you accept a friend or follower request, even if it looks like someone you know
  • If someone is harassing or threatening you, make sure you block and report them.
  • You can also report images or posts that you find upsetting

Definitions

Below are some important words and phrases. These are words and phrases that come up in a lot of discussions about online security and safety. If you have any other words you would like us to define, please send us a message using the "Need Help?" button on the bottom right side of the screen.

What is encryption?

Encryption is when data is scrambled so that it is unreadable. Just like with code breaking, you need a key to decrypt or translate it from that scramble into readable text. This readable text is sometimes called plain text.

People use encryption to ensure that sensitive information is kept safe. For example, when you put your credit card details into a website, you only want the right people to see them. If someone were to break into that website's files and your card details weren't encrypted, they could spend your money.

But if the details are encrypted, then they can only see a jumble of letters and numbers. They can't use that jumble to buy a new computer.

How can I tell if a site is secure?

URLs will start with either "http" or "https." That "s" stands for "secure" and it means that the data on their website is encrypted. The whole thing stands for "Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure", if you're interested...but you don't really need to know that much.

You may also see a little lock icon next to the URL.

You should never enter your details on a website that is not encrypted.

My Stroke Guide Screenshot showing HTTPS in URL

What is two factor authentication (2FA)

Some websites now offer two factor authentication. You may also see this written as multi factor authentication (MFA).

Two factor authentication is when you use a second step when logging in or authorising a payment. Many banks and online services use this process now.

The first step is entering your username and password. The second (or two-factor) step is when you receive a text or phone call with a code that you need to enter. Some sites may ask you to use an authenticator app on your phone that generates a random six-digit number every minute. Authenticator apps are available from Google, Microsoft and others like Authy and LastPass.

It just adds another layer of proof that you are who you say you are when you log in or pay for something.

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