Isn't the web a wonderful place for exploring? Just like any other appealing destination though, if you don't keep yourself safe, the attraction quickly wears off. Thankfully, you don't need a degree in advanced networking to protect yourself online — you just need to read and take heed of these 12 security tips, which should minimise the risk of something going wrong.
1) Keep your software up to date
Silent upgrades might occasionally be annoying (and costly), but they're a big part of keeping you safe, which is why the updates for most OSes and browsers now happen seamlessly. Apply updates whenever you're asked to on all of your applications, not just your browser, and be wary of leaving older hardware gathering dust on your network.
2) Trim down your browser
Uninstall the browser extensions you don't use and trust completely, because they can slow down performance or even spy on what you're up to if you're not careful. Open up the extensions page in your browser of choice and you'll probably discover a few plug-ins and add-ons you weren't even aware of — make sure you stick to the basics where possible.
3) Turn on two-step verification
Pretty much everyone these days, from Google to Apple to Microsoft, gives you the option of setting up two-step verification (or two-step authentication) on your accounts. Essentially, you use an SMS or app code to augment your password and username whenever you log in on a new device. Google just made the process a little easier too.
4) Check activity on your accounts
Some sites — including Facebook, Twitter, and Gmail — let you check up on active logins to see if there's any suspicious activity happening that you're not aware of (like someone accessing your Twitter from the other side of the world). It's a good idea to boot out any connected apps that you're not regularly using as well to reduce your exposure.
5) Protect your phone's lock screen
If someone picks up your phone, and it doesn't have lock screen protection, they can get at your social media accounts and web browser (complete with synced usernames and passwords, probably). Add a pattern, a PIN code, or a fingerprint or two, but make sure you add something that stops unwelcome visitors from logging straight into your phone.
6) Protect your laptop account
Same goes for your laptop or desktop account, particularly if your browser is set to automatically log into the sites and apps you use every day. Add a password or some other protection method, and make sure Windows or macOS is set up to require a password when it wakes up or quits a screensaver, not just every time it boots up from scratch.
7) Embrace end-to-end encryption
Encrypted messages can't be read by anyone but the sender and the receiver, even if someone else wants to start snooping. Look for site URLs beginning HTTPS (they should prompt a green padlock in your browser's address bar) and use fully encrypted messaging platforms (like WhatsApp or Signal) for the most sensitive discussions.
8) Be careful on public wi-fi
The problem with public wi-fi is it's public — you can get on, but so can everyone else. That means you need to be more careful about the files you're sharing, the websites you're visiting, and maybe install some VPN software if you haven't already. We've written a full guide to looking after yourself on public networks at places like hotels and coffee shops.
9) Don't share more than you need to
Remember networks like Instagram and Twitter are public by default, so just about anyone can see where you are and what you're doing if you share too much: avoid geo-tagging pictures with your home or work address, for example. Facebook is more nuanced and has audience settings for each post that you should make use of.
10) Check your key accounts
Can someone can ring up your bank or network provider and pretend to be you? Are you sure? Double-check that key information about you that could be used for security purposes (birthdays, pet names, addresses) isn't available online, and take advantage of whatever extra security features are offered by the key companies in your life.
11) Get help with online security
There are plenty of free and paid-for security tools out there to keep an eye on your online activities and add an extra layer of protection on top of your browser — choose a reputable one and keep it updated. Some of these tools might be a little on the over-zealous side but it's worth enlisting their help if it means avoiding any trouble while you're online.
12) Use a few real-world hacks
Not every precaution you can try is a digital one — some of the biggest names in tech have been known to tape over their webcams to keep out prying eyes. Using wired internet at home where possible is another good one (harder to tap into) and don't keep passwords or login info written down anywhere (you're making it too easy for potential hackers).