Globally, there are 4.54 billion internet users. We’d like to believe each one of them is using the magical powers of the web for good. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and there are many internet users out there who want to prey on those who don’t know how to protect themselves online. Of those 4.54 billion people, children account for one-third, and, according to Statista, 95% of adults aged 18 to 64 and 73% of adults over the age of 65 use the internet regularly. That means everyone, regardless of their age, should take online safety seriously and exercise caution each time they use the internet. This article explains some of the best ways for everyone to stay safe online.
Online Safety Best Practices for All
While children and seniors are most typically vulnerable to attacks online, everyone should practice internet safety and follow the same general guidelines.
Use strong passwords and always keep them private
Password protection is one of the most surefire ways to keep your information safe online. However, your passwords can be practically useless if they are easy to guess, aren’t long enough, and don’t include a mixture of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Once you’ve established a secure password for a site, make sure you keep it to yourself.
Utilize privacy settings
Think before you post
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but people often use social media, blogs, or email to share their lives with friends, family, and other followers. What people sometimes fail to remember is that once something is on the internet, it’s there forever and it’s at risk of being used by hackers and scammers. Before posting anything, think about whether it’s something you want permanently pinned to the internet world and if it can potentially come back to bite you in the future.
Only make purchases from secure sites
When making any online purchase, you’ll need to provide credit card, PayPal, or bank account information. Although many sites will say they’re protected, there’s a way to tell whether or not a site is secure. If you look at the URL found at the top of any browser, the site address will start with either “http” or https.” The “s” in “https” stands for secure, meaning only sites whose URLs start with “https” are actually secure. Additionally, the Google Chrome browser displays a lock symbol next to the URL of secure sites, adding further verification that a site is secure.
Online Safety for Kids
While it seems like kids today know the most about the internet, they can also be the most vulnerable to a potential online attack or scam. It’s important to ensure your kids are as safe as possible each time they go online. Below are tips for helping your children browse the web safely.
Educate them about online safety
One of the most important parts of keeping kids safe online is making sure they understand that the internet isn’t always a safe place, and that not everyone online is their friend. Teach your kids to be cautious about each interaction and only communicate with people they’re sure they know. Encourage them to come to you and ask your opinion on a situation’s safety any time something looks suspicious or “not right.” You can also teach them about phishing scams and how to identify when something is off.
Explain why protecting their identity is important
For kids, understanding the concept of identity protection can be hard to grasp. They may not understand why their birthday or address or even social security number should be kept to themselves when they are online. It’s important for parents to educate their kids about what their identity is, but also why it should be protected and how to keep it safe.
Online Safety for Seniors
Senior citizens, especially those with limited internet experience, are some of the most vulnerable targets for online security attacks. They are also more likely to fall victim to online scams telling them they’re in some kind of danger. These scams often fall into one of three categories:
- Personal Emergency: Scammers will often send social media messages or emails that appear to be from a friend or family member saying there’s some kind of emergency (e.g., they got arrested, someone is hurt). These “emergencies” often require disclosure of personal information, such as social security numbers or addresses, requests for prepaid visa gift cards, or an insistence that the only solution to the emergency is to wire money to another country.
- “You owe money”: Many scammers will also use social media or email to send messages telling individuals they owe money to a debt collector or government agency, such as the IRS, hoping to trick unsuspecting users into blindly sending money to scammers.
- Infected Computer: Scammers will sometimes go so far as to pose as internet security company employees and will call or email users saying their computer has been hacked. In reality, the computer is likely fine, and these scammers are attempting to get personal information and hack the users themselves. In the case of a real computer virus or the threat of a hack, security companies will never make those kinds of calls or send those types of emails.
That being said, here are a few best practices for senior citizens to follow when going online.
Only trust people you know
Be sure that anyone you talk to online is someone you know in person, without a doubt. Double check email addresses, ensure social media usernames are correct, and, if something feels “off” when you are communicating online with someone you think is a friend, ask personal questions to confirm that person’s identity. Additionally, never assume people know you just because they know something about you. It’s fairly easy to learn a lot about a person by searching online. Just because someone knows a few things about you, it doesn’t mean they’re someone you actually know.
Never provide any sensitive information online
Although there are many reputable websites that will ask for your private information (e.g., social security number, bank account numbers, email addresses, phone numbers), there are also many sites set up by scammers to fool you into sharing personal information. They’ll often send emails asking for personal information as a “confirmation” for information they supposedly already have, or their emails will link to a website asking for your information. A certified institution (e.g., a bank or credit card company) would never ask for private information via email. If you’re unsure, call that business’ customer service line to confirm whether or not a message is legitimate.
Although it’s easy to believe the internet is anonymous and has everyone’s best interests at heart, that’s just not the case. By practicing safe internet browsing, you’ll ensure you, your loved ones, and your information stays safe online.