Here’s a quick checklist to get you started on the road to Internet safety. If you want more detail, look to http://ilookbothways.com for straightforward practical advice on how to steer clear of Internet hazards whether you’re sending e-mail, dating online, making purchases or socializing – and whether you are on a computer, or your phone.
- Secure your computers with anti-virus, anti-spyware, and tools.
Keep them current and use them unfailingly-as automatically as locking your door when you leave the house. A computer that does not have security software installed and up-to-date will become infected with malicious software in an average of four minutes. That malicious software will steal your information and put you at risk for crimes.
- Choose a safe online name.
Use e-mail addresses, IM names, chat nicknames, and other such names that don’t give away too much personal information. Pick a name that doesn’t help identify you (your age, for example) or locate you. Avoid flirtatious or provocative names that may cause unwanted attention.
- Use strong, unique passwords for every site to reduce the risk of someone breaking into your account.
- Secure passwords do not have to be hard to remember, just hard to guess. It is easy and can actually be fun, and the payoff in increased safety is big. The key aspects of a strong password are length (the longer the better); a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols; and no tie to your personal information.
- Use unique passwords for each site or service. This way, if your password is discovered on one site, the rest of your services aren’t at risk.
- Avoid passwords with personal information, dictionary words in any language, words spelled backwards, abbreviations, and sequences or repeated characters (“abcdefgh” or “12345678”).
- Use a phrase. “2BorNot2B_ThatIsThe?” (To be or not to be, that is the question.)
- Incorporate shortcut codes or acronyms. “CSThnknAU2day!” (Can’t Stop Thinking About You Today!)
- Play with your keyboard. Use your keyboard as a canvas to draw on. For example, “1qazdrfvgy7” is just the letter “W.”
- Discuss online safety with your family and friends.
Decide together how you will help protect each other’s privacy online and set rules that reflect your personal values. Decide what information about yourself you are willing to have shared online, and with whom you are willing to share it. This includes asking friends to put your email address on the Bcc: line if they are including you on an email to people that you don’t know. Learn more here https://ilookbothways.com/?s=bcc.
- Be selective about who you interact with online and what information you make public.
- The risks are relatively low when you stick with people you know—your family, and friends. Going into public chat rooms or opening your blog up to the general public, for example, significantly increases your risk.
- Think carefully before you post online any information that can personally identify you, a family member, or friend on a public site like a blog, in online white pages, on job hunt sites, or in any other place anyone on the Internet can see the information. Sensitive information includes real name, birth date, gender, town, e-mail address, school name, place of work, and personal photos.
- Pay attention to the risks of e-mail.
- Think twice before you open attachments or click links in e-mail-even if you know the sender-as these can be used to transmit spam and viruses to your computer.
- Never respond to e-mail asking you to provide personal information, especially your account number or password, even if it seems to be from a business you trust. Reputable businesses will not ask you for this information in e-mail.
- Never click on links provided in email, unless you are sure of the sender. Instead, use a search engine to find the site yourself.
- Don’t forward spam. Whether it’s a cute ‘thought of the day’, ‘set of jokes’, ‘amazing photo’, ‘recipe tree’ or similar email, if you don’t personally know the sender the email is surely a scam designed to collect the email accounts – and relationships – of everyone you share it with.
- Never, ever meet in person someone you’ve only met online without taking somebody else along and meeting in a public place. Remember, people are not always who they say they are. Women often feel uncomfortable setting safety boundaries because they don’t want to offend someone; but good people will understand and encourage you to set safety requirements, its the crooks who want you to feel guilty about it.
Create an environment of safety for yourself by understanding how any website you use treats your privacy and information. That fine print may tell you the company can own, resell, rent, or give your information to anyone they want. If it does, find a more respectful site.
- Learn how to report abuse on any service you use – No one has the right to embarrass, shame, threaten, or make you feel uncomfortable in any way. Ever. If something negative occurs speak out by getting reporting the incident to the website company. Reporting issues is what responsible Internet citizens do to help stop illegal activity, harassment, and predatory behavior of online bullies and criminals. If you ever feel physically threatened, contact local law enforcement immediately.
- Don’t trade personal information for “freebies.”
Online freebies come in two forms:
- The free games, free offers, and ‘great deals’. Just as in the physical world, if these types of offers sound too good to be true, they probably are. Not only will these collect and sell your personal information, these ‘deals’, and ‘free’ applications are usually riddled with spyware, viruses or other malicious software.
- Through survey’s, sweepstakes, quizzes, and the like. These marketing tools are designed for one purpose – to get as much information from you as they can, so they can sell that to interested parties. Even the most innocuous ‘survey’s learn far more than you imagine, and they may give you malicious software or download tracking cookies, so just skip these entirely.
- Periodically review your internet contacts, and online activities.
Internet housekeeping is important. Review who you have as contacts, and who can see your online profiles periodically to prune out everyone you no longer have a close relationship with. Review any images and content you’ve posted online to see if collectively these tell more about you than should be known.
- Check your credit reports.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to one free credit disclosure in every 12-month period from each of the three national credit reporting companies—TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.
- Request a free credit report from one of the three companies for yourself, your spouse, and any minors over the age of 13 living at home to check for credit fraud or inaccuracies that could put you at financial risk. (Although exact figures are difficult to get, the latest data shows that at least 7 percent of identity theft targets the identities of children.) The easiest way to do this is through AnnualCreditReport.com.
- You can also pay for credit monitoring services that will alert you to any suspicious activity or changes in your credit scores.
- Block people you don’t want to interact with.
You don’t have to accept invitations to be friends with people just because they ask. Women in particular can find it difficult to turn someone down – and creeps and crooks count on this very thing. If you don’t want to be friends, delete the request. If you are already connected with someone you would rather not be, block them from your social sites. You can also block their email account so they can never contact you through email, and block their phone number from calling or sending text messages to your phone. YOU get to choose who, how, and when you are contacted.
- Trust your instincts.
Online and offline, your instincts play a critical role in your protection. If something feels ‘off’, go with your instinct. You don’t have to explain your reasoning to anyone.
- If you are exploited, it is not your fault.
Following the fourteen steps outlined above can go a long way to keeping you safe, but bad things sometimes do happen. If you fall victim to a scam, fraudster, abuser or criminal, don’t blame yourself. The only person guilty is the abuser or criminal. You didn’t cheat, scam, lie, threaten, harm, steal, or abuse yourself in some other way, so don’t lay a burden of guilt where none belongs. Don’t let the abuser or criminal shame you into silence. Speak out and get the help you need.
To receive monthly internet safety tips, download Internet Safety Calendar App by LOOKBOTHWAYS and Microsoft
The calendar provides relevant monthly advice to help you increase your online safety whether you’re looking out for your own safety, or you are a parent watching over your family’s safety. The calendar also includes reminders for recurring those safety actions you know you should be doing, but that frequently get forgotten in the rush of day-to-day activities. To access the new Internet Safety Calendar application, go to Microsoft’s http://www.microsoft.com/protect/resources/addon.aspx.
You may also be interested in the following internet safety brochures created by LOOKBOTHWAYS and Microsoft. Download by topic area: (https://ilookbothways.com/publications)
- Protecting Kids From Cyberbullying
- Protecting Youth on the Internet
- Protecting “Tweens” & Teens on the Internet
- Safer Online Gaming Safer Online Gaming
- How to E-mail / IM Safely
- Protecting Your Information On the Go
- Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft
- Safer Online Transactions
- Protecting Yourself from Phishing Scams
- Protecting Your Privacy Online
- Safer Social Networking