What’s the best tip for staying safe online?

It’s the last day of Stay Smart Online week, and every day we’ve put on a tip that could do just that, helping you to stay smarter online. But what do the professionals advise overall?

Depending on who you speak to, the best tips can be wide and varied, but many of them come back to safe practices, some of which we’ve written about this week, while others are a staple we’ll suggest time and time again, so let’s look at what these are.

Patch up

One of your best lines of defence is making sure the device you’re using isn’t at risk, and because new flaws, holes, and problem areas are found on a regular basis, this means getting security patches on your phone, tablet, laptop, computer, or anything else getting your attention to update its security.

On your phone, that means installing the new releases as well as keeping apps up-to-date, and the same is true on laptops and desktops.

Essentially, anything made by a human can be broken into by another human, and you should always assume that no release of software is the definite iron clad impossible-to-break release.

“Apply security patches to both your operating system and applications as soon as they are released,” said Peter Brady, General Manager for Kasperky Labs in Australia. “Don’t put it off! Turning on automatic updating of course helps.”

We’re a little more cautious in this way, because sometimes updates can occur when you don’t need them, and some updates may even be unwelcome, changing things without you realising, so while we agree with Brady and believe you should upgrade as soon as you can, in some instance — such as major updates, including those upgrading a phone to a new generation, like the jump from iOS 9 to iOS 10 — you may want to wait for a few other people to do it, watching Twitter, Facebook, and various websites (including this one) to see if an immediate upgrade is the right one.

But don’t forget about it, because patches are important, and allow you to quickly fix things that the developers feel will stop hackers in their tracks.

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Think before you click

Out of the expert advice we received this week, one of the more consistent responses was the importance to think before you click.

That should probably be a t-shirt or a postcard, or even a wallpaper or something else that can stick in your mind, because if you think before you click — if you think twice about something online — you have more chance of being safe and less chance of having something disastrous befall you.

“My best advice is simple, but applicable to almost every online scenario: think twice before you click,” said Trend Micro’s Tim Falinski, who began the sentiment.

“Always make sure that your internet connection is secure before going online and keep an eye out for unusual or suspicious activity to avoid clicking on a link leading to malware or ransomware,” added Andy Hurren, Solution Architect for Intel Security and McAfee.

“Hover over the URL before clicking to see what kind of site you’ll be redirected to,” Symantec’s Nick Savvides told Pickr, adding that “a good rule of thumb is to visit only websites you know and trust.”

“Don’t click on links or attachments in unsolicited messages,” Kaspersky’s Peter Brady told Pickr, adding that “it’s always better to type a URL directly into your browser to avoid the risk of being taken to a phishing site.”

The message is pretty clear throughout all of these: make sure you know what you’re clicking on, because danger can lurk behind any window online.

Brady makes a valid point, too, as phishing sites are definitely a problem, and while we haven’t covered them directly this week, you need to know that scammers will do anything to steal your money or identification. Pretending to be a major website just happens to be one of the easiest tricks in the book.

This technique is called “phishing”, and while there are some pretty obvious tell-tale signs on most of them — poor spelling, incorrect domain names and URLs — they can fool people trying to do things quickly.

Thinking twice before you enter details is always important, because if you found your way to something like a banking website through an email and didn’t check if it was real, you could be easily scammed out of your details, one of the oldest tricks in the book.

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The age of internet security

It’s hard to get past the most obvious piece of advice out there, and that’s this: invest in a form of internet security.

With more than just viruses on the internet, and with the term “malware” covering a lot more, security is a must have if you own anything with Windows, Android, or even Mac OS on it.

Many people still go without, and this is partly because they don’t think they need it.

We’ve heard the attitude a few times, because “it’ll never happen to them” and “they’ll never get caught out”, but given how pervasive hacks, scams, malware, ransomware, and social engineering is, you have more of a chance in getting caught out without internet security than you do with some.

Education is the best answer

Throughout it all, education is by far the best solution to a world that is constantly being transformed and is becoming ever more digital by the minute.

You simply cannot get by without technology anymore, and it is always changing and always evolving. As a result of this, the skills you might have learned a few years ago are probably still valid, just less so, and now you have even more to take in, more to memorise.

We’ll keep writing pieces like this because they matter, but if you like using the internet and you value your online presence, staying abreast of the constantly shifting lines of security is important and something you should keep reading up on, even if it’s a casual glance.

Or to put it better from one of the pros:

“As cybercriminals keep finding new ways to steal our information and advancing their skills, we need to keep on top of the latest information regarding cyber security to make sure we’re employing the right strategies to keep our personal data secure,” said Intel Security’s Andy Hurren.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

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