Stay safe online
Hints and tips to make the internet a safer place
The internet doesn't have to be daunting. Take a few simple precautions, and you can help protect yourself from common threats.
- Website security : How to check a website's credentials and keep your details safe.
- Passwords : Tips on how to choose your internet passwords - and keep them safe.
- Using the internet in public : Stay vigilant in public places such as libraries and internet cafes.
- Online shopping : Find out how to make internet shopping as safe as possible.
- Auction sites : Going, going, gone. Make sure your security doesn't go the same way as the lots.
- Social networking : Catch up with old friends and make new ones - staying safe all the time.
How to check a site's credentials
It's vital to protect your identity when you're online, and understand the nature of the sites you visit. This is particularly important if you are asked to provide any personal or account details, for example when buying items, or registering to use a service.
Check how safe sites are
Always check the security of internet banking and shopping sites before you use them, by following these tips:
Always type the full web address directly into your browser
By typing the full web address into your browser instead of clicking links, you greatly reduce your chances of being duped by a counterfeit or spoof site - one that looks like the real thing, but is controlled by criminals.
Always check for 'https' and any padlock or key symbol
Genuine secure sites have addresses that start with 'https' and display a padlock icon or key symbol in your internet browser. This will usually be displayed at the top or bottom of your screen.
Double click the padlock or key symbol
This supplies information that can help you confirm that the site is genuine. If the lock is not within its valid dates or has been issued to a website you don't recognise, do not proceed.
Always log out of secure sites
Never leave your computer unattended when logged in to a secure session, such as internet banking. Make sure you log out properly when you have finished a session, particularly when using online banking.
Become a smarter web user
The more you know about fraud, the less likely you are to become a victim. Credit card fraud, telephone scams and internet fraud all use various mechanisms for doing the same thing: stealing your information.
Protect your information using Rapport safer banking software
You can download free software for extra safe online banking.
How to choose them and keep them safe
The best password is one that's easy for you to remember - but impossible for anyone else to guess. Once you've chosen your password, make sure to change it regularly. If you've been using the same passwords for years, it's definitely time for a change. It is also important that you have different passwords so that your whole digital identity is not at risk if your whole account is compromised.
Never share your passwords with anyone. And you should never write down your passwords - or store them on your computer.
Handy hints - choose a good password
Use letters from a phrase or song lyric - for example the nursery rhyme ' The Grand Old Duke of York he had ten thousand men' would give you the phrase 'TGODoYhhttm'. The mix of upper case and lower case letters helps to make the password even more secure
Use a mixture of characters- including upper and lower case letters, as well as numbers. Some sites will allow you to use symbols such as "/" "~" or "&" for even better security
Don't use your PIN - or reuse any other passwords
Don't use family names or birthdays - they are easy for attackers to guess, especially if you use your own name or birthday
Don't use dictionary words - attackers will often use dictionaries of commonly used passwords. So avoid passwords which contain 'real' words (such as 'hello' or 'password'), names, or words in foreign languages
Don't mis-spell common words - attackers are likely to try these combinations as well, especially sequences which replace letters such as 'I' with '1' or 'e' with '3'
Take special care out in the world
You can never be certain about the security of public wireless networks or computers in public places - such as hotels, libraries or internet cafes.
It's recommended you do not access your online banking account in such situations. Preferably, restrict your online activity to viewing a minimum number of sites over a short period of time.
Never change your security details while using a public wireless network or a public computer
Never provide your account details to any third parties - such as online shopping sites - while using public facilities
Always ensure you log out properly from your online session when you're finished
Always be aware of the activities of those around you and be aware of "shoulder surfers" - people who watch your every move to try and get your personal details without your knowledge. Ensuring your computer screen cannot be overlooked is good practise for your every day protection, and especially if you are in a public place.
Better safe than sorry
Online shopping is becoming more and more popular and convenient - but there are issues to consider before you decide to buy goods and services over the internet. While the vast majority of virtual transactions are safe and secure, fake shopping sites are not unknown.
Debit and credit card security
Verified by Visa and MasterCard SecureCode give you an extra layer of security when you use your debit or credit card online.
Enter your card details on secure websites only - these are identified by a padlock or key symbol and a site address that changes from 'http' to 'https'
Be careful about providing your account and card details to third parties. If you are at all unsure about buying something from any third party, do not proceed
Never disclose your card PIN to any online seller
Poor grammar or spelling on an email or website may indicate a scam is being attempted
Remember - there is no guarantee that you will receive any item as displayed or described in an advertisement or from public auction sites
Be careful when giving card details as part of "free trials" or "special offers" as you could be authorising unspecified payments in the future - always check the terms & conditions.
Look after your own interests
Although buying and selling items using online auction sites can be successful, not every person you encounter is trustworthy and not every selling site is as it seems.
Whether buying or selling, it's always important to know who you are dealing with. And remember - giving your account details to an unknown third party may lead to identify theft.
Use secure websites only - these are identified by a padlock or key symbol and a site address that changes from 'http' to 'https'
Check all documentation when you are shopping online and make sure the site is genuine
Know what you are expecting to receive, and preferably order items that are relatively small in value
Always print off any order and find out as much detail about the seller as possible
Remember that it can be time consuming and costly to chase non-receipt of any orders - and this should be considered before purchasing
Never release any items until you have received payment in full - and make sure cheques have cleared before handing over goods
Understand the true value of the items you are selling, and do not be tempted to accept the first offer that comes your way
Be aware you may receive counterfeit documents such as drafts or cheques. If you are unsure, ask your bank to check these out for you
Never refund an overpayment from a buyer until you are certain that the payment you have received will not subsequently be returned unpaid
Stay safe when interacting with others
Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace are becoming more and more popular, especially among teenagers and young adults. The nature of these sites creates security risks, so you should always be cautious when using them.
These types of sites promote personal connections and communications, and require you to provide a certain amount of personal information.
However, the more information available, the easier it becomes for others to take advantage of your identity. In some cases, criminals could fraudulently exploit this to obtain products and services in your name.
Personal information could also be used to conduct a 'social engineering attack'. Predators may form relationships online and then convince unsuspecting individuals - often young people - to meet them in person, which could lead to a dangerous situation.
Essential tips for protecting your identity:
Always limit the amount of information you provide - do not post information that could be used by third parties, such as your address (home, school or workplace), date of birth, postcode, job title or information about your schedule or routine
Always read and understand privacy policies - some sites may share information such as email addresses or user preferences with other companies. This may lead to an increase in spam and unwanted emails
Remember that the internet is a public resource - so consider how others may view any information provided. Avoid using inappropriate language in your profile in blogs and other forums
Never converse with strangers - the internet makes it easy for predators and cyberbullies to misrepresent their identities and motives
Be sceptical and maintain your integrity - don't believe everything you read online. People may post misleading information about various topics, including their own identities, to lull you into a false sense of security
Change passwords regularly - and use a separate email address for social networking sites
Children are especially susceptible to the threats presented by social networking sites. Parents should inform their children about internet safety and be aware of their online habits. Some useful tips are:
- Keep your PC in a central, public part of your home
- Set clear rules for your children's internet use
- Use family safety or parental controls software
For more information, visit the Information Commissioner's pages for young people.