7 tips to stay safer online

Safe Internet use is more important than ever, as more of our lives move online the online population increases, but also the threats to which we are exposed also increase and get more sophisticated. Below is some advice – seven tips – to be better protected online.

SID 2013 logoLast week Tuesday, 5 February, was the 10th “Safer Internet Day”. Safer Internet Day was first launched in the European Union in 2004, with the aim of “promoting safe, responsible use of the internet by children and young people, and protecting them from illegal and harmful content and conduct online” (Source: Safer Internet Day).  Outside of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, no other Caribbean/CARICOM country officially commemorated Safer Internet Day, although as in our latest news roundup, we noted that telecoms company, LIME, engaged in safer Internet sensitization activities in Jamaica and St. Kitts and Nevis.

Notwithstanding the seemingly limited public promotion of safe Internet practices across the region, it is imperative that we all become more vigilant regarding our use of computing devices, not only for ourselves, but more so for those under our care. Outlined below are seven tips that are applicable to both adults and minors, which should improve safety online.

1.  Ensure computer security software is current and active.  With the plethora of viruses, worms, spyware and other threats to which our computing devices are continuously being subjected, it is crucial that PCs, laptops, tablets, smartphones, etc., all have appropriate computer and Internet security software installed and maintained up to date. As was noted in Are we really serious about cybercrime and security?, too often we are prepared to skimp on the security software we use, by relying only on free applications. However those products frequently have very abbreviated features, which limits the quality of the security they provide, and ultimately that of the device. Hence if you value your devices, and more importantly the content that they store and manipulate, do ensure that you are using reputable computer/Internet security software that gives you the protection that you need.

2.  Avoid using USB and other removable storage devices. Again, this point was raised in Are we really serious about cybercrime and security?, but it bears repeating. USB drives and other removable storage disks and devices can be a hotbed for malicious code, compromised applications, and a broad range of threats. Although it might be impossible to completely eliminate use of those devices, it is advisable to be strict about which equipment they can be connected to, and that your security software regularly scans them.

3.  Do not circulate pornographic or other offensive material. In addition to the fact that the dissemination of pornographic and other offensive material is illegal in many jurisdictions, connecting to such websites can expose your device to a variety of dangers. Additionally, depending on how and/or to whom such content is circulated, it is possible to attract unwanted attention, which at the very least could result in excessive spam, to concentrated efforts to breach your device.

4.  Limit the personal information published online. This tip is applicable to both adults and children, and is stressed regularly. As users, we all have some degree of control over what personal information is available on us online. Although we might hesitate to upload on Google or Yahoo our home address, daily schedule or intimate photos, we will mindlessly publish the same to our social network accounts. Although social networks gets much of its value from the communication and sharing of their users, it is important to remember to be guarded about some aspects of your life, lest you compromise your and your family’s personal safety.

5.  Decline or block unwanted or unknown contacts. Although many of us take pride in the size of our social networks, those environments can cause a false sense of security – that all of those connections are truly “friends”. While adults might be more likely to discern threats and take appropriate action, it is imperative to teach children to decline or block unwanted or unknown contacts, and not to meet anyone they do not know (or without parental supervision/consent), especially if the interaction has been exclusively online.

6.  Do not download files from unknown websites. Have you ever done a search for a document, music or video and ended up at an unknown or somewhat shady-looking website? Or, you are browsing and a pop-up window appears telling you that you have spyware, or some other irregularity, and there is an offer to scan your hard drive? Do you download? The short answer is no. Again, it is recommended that you be careful and err on the side of caution, by being scrupulous about the sites you visit and more importantly, the content you allow to be downloaded on to your device

Child On Computer by Clare Bloomfield (FreeDigitalPhotos.net)7.  Do not be afraid to set rules and boundaries with your children. Finally, to a considerable degree, children need to be taught to be vigilant on the Internet. For parents and guardians it is critical that rules and boundaries be established regarding Internet use and behaviour in order to inculcate good practices. Among the suite of rules devised, it is important that you as parents/guardians implement systems to ensure children access age-appropriate content, e.g. by activating the parental control features most web browsers have, and that you are still prepared to oversee your children’s as required. Oversight is not only necessary to ensure that rules are adhered to, but also allow as parents and guardians to be in a position to moderate and guide in such a dynamic environment.


Image credits:  Safer Internet Day;  Claire Bloomfield / FreeDigitalPhotos.net