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8 ways to protect your data online

Published: September 8, 2020

As we move more of our professional and social lives online, it’s important to stay savvy with keeping our personal data safe. Did you know the Australian Cyber Security Centre received 13,672 cybercrime reports in July to September 2019? That’s an average of 148 reports a day or 1 every 10 minutes! Many threats still go undetected, highlighting the need to stay alert at all times. We’ve put together our top eight tips to keep you safe in cyberspace.

1. Turn on multi-factor authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) provides an additional layer of protection when logging into websites or computers. Two-factor authentication (one factor being your password and the other being an SMS or an email code) is generally the most common. For example, Google or Facebook can send a unique and time sensitive code via SMS or an email with a confirmation link to ensure it is you logging in. It’s much harder for someone to access the account, even if your password is compromised, because they would also need access to the SMS sent to your phone, for example.

Without MFA, if your password is compromised it’s very simple for someone to take over your account. If they login to your email account then they may be able to request a password reset for your other accounts, in turn gaining access to those accounts too!

2. Create strong and unique passwords

Easy to remember passwords aren’t always the most secure!

While MFA is useful when turned on, not all websites and services will provide you with this option. To ensure that your accounts can’t easily be accessed, it’s important to create and use unique and strong passwords that have a mixture of letters and numbers. ‘Password123’ might seem like a silly password to set, however almost 1,500 Western Australian Government officials had this as their password during an audit in 2018! The longer the password, the less likely a human or program can crack it. A long phrase such as “IMetMyBestFriendJohnIn1986!” is very difficult for an identity thief or computer to crack, yet it can be easy for the password holder to remember as there is a memory tied to it.

3. Use a password manager

Longer and complex passwords are more secure and need to be unique for each account, but it can be almost impossible to remember all of them. You can make life easier by using secure password managers such as Apple’s iCloud Keychain or 1Password. These handy tools can store all your passwords under one lock and key. Some password managers even support MFA, offering an extra layer of security to your vault of encrypted passwords.

4. Think twice about what you share online

Social media channels let us express ourselves online and share updates with friends, family and professional circles. However, anything you post online can be difficult to remove. These platforms have a wide range of policies on data deletion and management, and there’s no guarantee your data won’t ever fall into the hands of people that might use it for harm. A good rule of thumb when posting anything online is to ask yourself if you’re happy for it to live forever or be seen by strangers – as there’s always a risk. Always make sure your photos don’t have anything in the background showing your private data, such as bills, addresses, open passports or your driver’s license.

Be wary of social media quizzes that ask for your maiden name, best friend’s name, your favourite colour or other information. These can be commonly used when requesting a password reset, making you an easy target for being hacked.

5. Use a VPN while ‘on the go’ 

Virtual Private Networks (VPN) give you the ability to be anonymous online

If you’re conscious of stranger danger, you might already be quite cautious with sharing personal information online, such as photos and videos. However, it‘s much harder to hide the trail of data from your activity online. Websites use cookies (text files stored on your computer) to identify you and create a more personalised experience.

A virtual private network (VPN) gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. The VPN works by masking your internet protocol (IP) address, which shows where you are physically in the world, making your online activity virtually untraceable by strangers.

6. Avoid sites that don’t start with ‘https’ 

Before entering personal data, such as credit card details when shopping online, make sure the site you are visiting is completely secure. Secure websites are identified by a ‘padlock’ icon before the web address in your browser. You will also see that the website address begins with HTTPS. If you’re browsing a website (i.e. not entering in any personal data) and you find that it’s not secure, that’s okay! Just be sure not to enter any personal information as it’s not guaranteed to keep your data safe.

7. Be wary of using free Wifi

Free Wifi is everywhere, but think first before connecting to that network!

Finding a ‘FREE WiFi’ sign in that local cafe might be convenient and help conserve your device’s data allowance when you’re on the go, but there is the risk your activity is not protected. These connections can be highly unsecure and open an opportunity for people to view your online activity. VPNs offer good protection while connecting to public WiFi networks as your data is sent through an encrypted ‘tunnel’, making it extremely hard to decipher from third parties.

If you do need to use public or free WiFi, avoid using important sites that contain sensitive information such as MyGov or internet banking. Alternatively, you can use the 4G or 5G data on your phone, which is much safer. To learn more about the risks of using free WiFi networks and how to use your devices safely in public, check out a more in-depth article here.

8. Use a trusted anti-virus software 

While the internet gets more sophisticated and complex, so do the types of threats that exist online. Anti-virus software offers important protection from a wide range of online threats designed to cause harm to your devices and steal data. The latest anti-virus products, such as Norton and Trend Micro, can warn you if you are visiting sites that could impact your device and scan any downloaded files from a website to ensure it’s safe to open.

Need some assistance in setting up new anti-virus software or a VPN? Do you have questions about any of the points above? Our tech support technicians can help keep your computer secure and answer any questions you might have – technical advice and troubleshooting is all included as part of our Premium Support subscriptions! Feel free to give us a call on 1300 788 071 to learn more or sign up here.