For Safer Internet Day (9 February 2021), Kent academics provide some top tips for staying safe online.
The annual event, which started in 2004 as part of the EU SafeBorders project, is now celebrated across the globe and aims to bring people together to make the internet a safer and better place for all, and especially for children and young people.
This year’s theme is “Together for a better internet” and our experts have provided their tips within this context:
Pay attention to and help minimise the spread of misleading and harmful information
- The internet can be a great place, but it is also a place of inaccurate, misleading, false or even harmful information. Always double check the content that you read, and check that it is from a reliable source (eg a well-respected news outlet or website) or has appeared in multiple reliable sources.
- We can all play our part to help reduce mis- and dis-information online and online harms to others. Think twice before sharing information with others – only do so if you are certain about its veracity and that sharing it will not cause harm. Help by alerting others to mis- or dis-information and reporting it to relevant organisations to stop it from spreading further.
- Always verify the trustworthiness of unsolicited online requests from strangers or “old” friends you haven’t “seen” for a long time – they may be cyber criminals pretending to be someone else. Resist the pressure or lure to act quickly in these situations – you may regret it later! Discuss with a trusted and knowledgeable person or organisation to get advice or help instead.
- If you are the target of online harm, do not be afraid to reach out to trusted people and organisations for help. If someone you know is a victim of online harm, encourage them do the same. There are well-respected and free services that can help you (eg The Cyber Helpline and Victim Support).
- If you witness suspected cybercrime activities that may harm others, you should report it to law enforcement (eg the national Action Fraud portal or your local police force) and relevant organisations so actions can be taken to stop them.
Protecting your and others’ privacy
- Avoid disclosing personal and sensitive data online unless it is absolutely necessary. It can also be fun to be anonymous when interacting with others. Remember to delete such data or request its deletion when it is no longer needed, but do not forget that other people can save data on their computers that you won’t know about and can’t delete.
- Personal and sensitive data about you may also be about other people who may care more about privacy than you do. Think hard about them when making a decision to share “your” data.
- When using a new online service or mobile app, always check your privacy settings to ensure you do not over-share your personal or sensitive data with the service provider or other unwanted people using the service. Check your privacy settings regularly, especially when you receive a notice of changes to privacy policies.
- You can use many great and free PETs (Privacy Enhancing Tools) to protect your privacy! For instance, to search online, you could use DuckDuckGo; for instant messaging, you could use Signal or Telegram; and for browsing the Internet and the Web, you could use a VPN, Tor or Brave.
Protecting your passwords, online accounts and digital data
- Use password managers and similar tools to manage your passwords and other digital footprints. Use random passwords generated by the password manager as much as you can. You don’t have to remember most of your passwords!
- Don’t put all your important data in one basket! Back up your data regularly to avoid accidental data loss and to ensure you can recover it easily following cyber attacks such as ransomware. This includes data in your mobile devices and your password manager(s).
- Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA) on your computers (including your mobile devices, wearables and smart home devices), and on websites where your personal or sensitive data are kept. Make sure you have a way to restore access if you forget your password.
- Don’t share your passwords with others, not even with your loved ones or other trusted people. If you have to do it for some reason, change your password to a random one before sharing it, and restore it afterwards.
- Be careful when clicking links or opening attachments in emails — even if an email appears to come from someone you know. The sender information can be easily spoofed, and malicious links over email are one of the ways for malware to get in. Always double check with the sender using a different (ideally physical) channel if possible.
- Be aware that phishing emails, texts and phone calls will often appeal to you by conveying a sense of time pressure (your action is required now), urgency (people you love will be in trouble), emergency (really important otherwise…), greed (you will gain something), or authority to trick you. Keep your critical thinking alert!
- Keep your software up to date. It is impossible to create software that is 100% secure, which is why security patches are issued from time to time by vendors. Enable automatic software updates so this can be done automatically.
For more information about the Safer Internet Day campaign, including ways in which you can get involved, please visit their website: https://www.saferinternetday.org/
Thanks to the following academics from Kent Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Cyber Security (KirCCS), part of the newly established Institute for Advanced Studies in Cyber Security and Conflict (SoCyETAL) at the University of Kent, for providing these tips:
Dr Budi Arief, Senior Lecturer in Cyber Security, School of Computing
Dr Sanjay Bhattacherjee, Lecturer in Cyber Security, School of Computing
Dr Virginia Franqueira, Lecturer in Cyber Security, School of Computing
Professor Shujun Li, Professor of Cyber Security, School of Computing
Dr Jason Nurse, Senior Lecturer in Cyber Security, School of Computing
Dr Jennifer Storey, Lecturer in Forensic Psychology, School of Psychology