This is what we call our “journey to safety”.
We’ve taken our basic rules for better online security and tried to show you how much difference each one could make to you.
We have to say “could” because everyone is starting from a different place. On top of that, everyone has a different experience and comfort level with being online. That means, as we keep saying, that there is no guarantee that following our basic rules will keep you safe online – there’s no such thing as a guarantee.
However, what we will say is that wherever you are now, if you take each one of the rules above and move along from where you are to the right, by doing the things we suggest, your risk of being compromised online will reduce. The more you do, the bigger that reduction … but you’ll never be able to reduce that risk to zero.
Everything on our site is aimed at helping you to understand more about where you are now, and how you can fit changes into your everyday online lifestyle to make the internet a safer place for you to keep doing what you want to do online.
What does it tell us?
We believe that the biggest, persistent threat to our online security is the use of one single, or of a very limited number of passwords across different sites and services.
If you do that, and just one site is hacked, then a lot of your other online access is immediately at risk too.
If you want to take that next step and move away from a limited number of passwords, we have a number of tools that can help you – ranging from our own strong password generator, through to third party apps and services that can create and manage all your passwords in one place for you.
Having strong, unique passwords is a huge step you can take to make yourself safer, but if a site offers you multi-factor authentication (MFA), which an increasing number of them are, that is definitely also something we recommend.
Running MFA means that it’s much more difficult for someone to sign-in as you – even if they have your username and password. We explain how here, and we have a number of FREE MFA tools on our “stuff that helps” page.
Open wi-fi networks
If you enjoy using free wi-fi when you’re away from home, then we think this probably poses the next biggest risk to you if you are unaware of the risks involved.
We go into more detail about the risks here and, once again, if you’d like to improve your own security when you connect to a public wi-fi network, you’ll find a list of suggested, highly-rated VPN providers here.
Phishing and social engineering
If you’re not careful about which emails you click to open, or whether you then go on to click the links in them, then the next highest risk for us is this one.
Phishing scams can result in your details being given away to one criminal or being sold to many criminals on the dark web.
There isn’t really a single piece of software that can prevent you clicking on a fraudulent link in an email, although most good antivirus solutions will be able to warn you before doing so.
Out-of-date operating systems or antivirus software
We can’t really say “last but not least” because we don’t know your precise circumstances, so the order of importance of covering these risks off might be different for you.
However, if we have drawn your attention to them and made you more aware than you were, then maybe you have already come to your own conclusions as to which are most relevant to you.
Operating systems are regularly updated by their developers – generally monthly, maybe more frequently if a particular issue has been discovered.
Those updates happen for a reason – they will contain improvements and bug fixes which should make your device more resilient to being compromised. However, unless you download and install those updates, they’re not going to do you any good at all.
Sometimes your operating system will offer you “critical updates” – those are usually really important to install as quickly as possible because they have generally been released in response to a particular threat that your device is vulnerable to all the time you don’t update it.
The same is true of antivirus software (assuming you have some). As new threats emerge all the time, your antivirus software needs to be continually updated to keep pace.
The missing Rule Number 5
You’ll have noticed that Rule Number 5 – Guard Your Personal Data Closely is missing.
We haven’t forgotten about it, neither do we think it is any less important than the other four.
The problem is, all these rules are subjective – they will each apply to you individually to a greater or lesser extent depending on what you use the internet for, and your own online comfort and experience level.
What the other 4 rules all have in common is that they highlight you to a risk and then have a tidy solution as to how you guard against each of those risks.
“Guarding your personal” data doesn’t have one simple solution – it’s a state of mind. We’ve written an article on it here, but in the context of where it ranks in importance, it is just as important as any of the other rules but, on this occasion, the solution is entirely down to you I’m afraid.
Whether you enjoy posting to social media, entering online competitions or are simply happy to be marketed to by online sites – your data is inevitably in someone else’s hands. It is entirely your choice as to how much “value” you attach to it – the lower that value, the higher the risk you are placing yourself at.
However, if you value keeping it to yourself half as much as companies (and criminals) value getting hold of it, you’ll go along way to reducing the risk of it falling into the wrong hands.