There’s so much to do online – from social networking, to research, to online banking and transactions, to instant messaging, to games, to youtube videos… all that incredible content and entertainment out there waiting for us, at just the click of a mouse! Yes, in this day and age, you would rarely ever chance upon a white-collar worker who does not use the internet. It is an absolute necessity in today’s hyper-connected working world.

Perhaps, there are still some older folk who never quite got the hang of the whole online thing and so, remain offline. But their number is dwindling as more and more “senior citizens” get online. It is amazing how quickly they too become “addicted” to the internet, even though it was not a part of their lives when they were younger. And what about our kids? They too, are surfing the internet non-stop. Often, their bandwidth usage far surpasses ours!

online security

It would be beneficial however, to be aware of the risks associated with being online. Not just for our parents and our kids, but also for ourselves. From phishing websites to fraudulent emails requesting for bank account details, to viruses lurking inside downloaded files and links clicked on, to malware – the list of dangers lurking in the online realm grows ever-longer.

How can we protect ourselves, our parents and our kids and make sure we all stay safe online?

We checked out for some excellent tips to enhance our online safety practices.

1. Clean Up! Yes- keep your PC/tablet/smartphone or other device, as clean as possible. What do we mean by “clean”? Well, just as we need to keep our homes clean – turns out we need to do the same thing to our computers and devices. Keeping clean in technical terms means, making sure your machine is updated with the latest security software, ensuring your browser is updated, and keeping your OS (operating system) updated and supported.

Online threats, malware and viruses are most likely to attack machines carrying outdated or unsupported software and OS, which lack the protection of robust antivirus programmes. If you’re not the sort of person who wants to spend the time checking on your device’s software and security status manually, enabling auto-updates on your machine could help with the task.

2. KIP (Keep It Personal) – Hacking, phishing, privacy and security breaches are becoming so common, one is almost afraid to transact online. And yet in today’s hectic world, it is almost impossible not to avail yourself of the convenience of doing things online, from social networking, purchasing groceries, buying books and shopping for clothes, to renewing memberships, doing online banking, reserving hotels and booking flights.

There is almost nothing that does not involve transacting online, these days – and all of it involves divulging our personal information and providing our credit card or bank account details. So how can we protect our sensitive information? One thing you can do, is opt for additional protection if the website/service offers it. Meaning, other than a password, you could also offer to provide the answers to security questions, or opt to enable some other kind of pre-access verification.

3. Encrypt Everything – make passwords complex and lengthy, combine lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers and symbols. And, tempting as it is, do NOT use the same password for every website/service! If you’re the sort of person who always forgets your passwords, a helpful hint might be to keep a separate notebook in which you can write down your passwords, and store that notebook away from your computer.

Note to self : Do not store this information on your computer – as that could make it vulnerable to hacking or other forms of unauthorised access. Further, make it a habit of browsing incognito (just press control + shift + N to open an incognito window, on your Google Chrome browser) and where possible, adjust the privacy settings to prevent or restrict your online activity from being tracked and monitored. Finally, ensure that the site you are transacting on is encrypted – you should see a https://…. or “shttp://…in the front part of the website’s URL.

4. Connect with Caution. Important warning! Do not simply click on every single link someone sends you, whether the link appears in an email, on Facebook, on Twitter or on your smartphone via instant messaging or other apps. All the more so, if you do not recognize the sender.

Sometimes, even friends could unwittingly allow your device to be compromised or commandeered by cybercriminals. So unless you are really sure of the source, best to delete or ignore the link. Also, be wary when connecting to the internet via public wi-fi networks such as the ones at Starbucks or your favourite mamak stall. Your online activity could be monitored/intercepted by “sniffing” software.

5. Always be Wise on the Web. Lastly, think before you act, and be on your guard. Hundreds of internet schemes and scams are lurking out there. Do not fall for them and end up duped. If something sounds too good to be true, chances are, it isn’t true.

Emails offering to give you huge sums of money, inviting you to participate in incredible investment schemes promising huge returns, or communications from “banks” requesting for your personal details – mark all of these as spam, report them where possible, or just plain delete them.

Happy Safe Surfing!


Personal finance author and trainer

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