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Online Security

What is online security?

Online security is something most of us use on a daily basis – sometimes we don’t even know we are using it! It is commonly used by websites to keep your personal information as safe as possible. Some websites apply their security by asking for your email address and other contact details which are unique to you. Most websites will have a disclaimer explaining exactly how the information you provide will be used and/or distributed. This should be reviewed carefully to ensure you are fully aware of your digital footprint and how your personal data is being stored and used.

Although most websites and platforms do everything that they can to prevent your information from unauthorized access – the connected and open nature of the internet means that no security system can be 100% secure.

What is a digital footprint?

A digital footprint is like a file of unique, traceable online activities, contributions, communications and actions specific to you. When you supply information to a website, sign up for a social media account or contribute to a forum, these activities will automatically become part of your personal digital footprint.

Our ‘digital footprints’ or online identities are broken down into two categories. One being our active digital footprints, which is made up of websites and platforms that we have purposely given information to – such as when you sign up for a social media account. The other is called our passive digital footprint – where our data is collected without us knowing. This is used by businesses and websites in order to track website traffic and is collected automatically. This data is commonly referred to as ‘cookies’ and gets stored while you are browsing a particular webpage.

Different types of online security

Almost all of us use online security on a daily basis. Some examples of frequently used online security include:

  • Complex password entry – Social media platforms and websites that allow you to have an account or offer a login entry system will more often than not, ask you to create a password in order to gain access in the future. Because of advancements in technology and the sophistication of hacking software – websites are asking for passwords to be increasingly complex. They often require a combination of at least 8 characters made up of one uppercase letter, a number and at least one special symbol such as a question mark or full stop.
  • Security questions – Commonly, banks will ask you to set up security questions. These questions will be personal to you and you should never share your answers with anybody. Your bank may ask you to enter the answers to these questions when logging in every time or if they recognize that you are trying to log in from a different location than usual. Over recent years, some social media platforms have also started using security questions as a method of identifying users.
  • Anti-virus software/freeware – Antivirus software that can be purchased or freely downloaded can be very useful in providing protection to internet users. Most security products will block viruses and threats from accessing or affecting your device – good quality security products offer a scanning facility to check your device and remove any malware in the process. Always consider the strength of your firewall along with a good antivirus program to get the best results and to keep your personal information as secure as possible.
  • Two-factor authentication – Increasingly, companies and social media platforms are offering two-factor authentication, which is considered a “second layer” of security online. Two factor authentication means that more than just a username and password are required when logging in to an account. Most companies and social media platforms do this by sending a unique code to the user via SMS. This code will expire after a certain amount of time and also lets people know if anyone is attempting to gain access to their account without permission.

The types of online security listed above are just a fraction of the layers that online security plays in all of our lives each day.

Threats to Internet safety

Regardless of the volume and effectiveness of online security that we use to protect ourselves, we are never 100% safe from online threats. Some of the more commonly seen threats include:

  • Botnets – Botnets are networks of multiple computers that can coordinate specific tasks which are often repetitive to help maintain websites and chatrooms. These networks can be hijacked and controlled without a user’s knowledge, spreading different kinds of malware and sending high volumes of emails containing spam and viruses to inboxes around the world.
  • Hacking – Hackers gain unauthorized access to your device through a number of ways. Once they have gained access to your device they are then able to access your personal information or any other person’s information you store on the system.
  • Pharming – Pharming is when someone is able to redirect anyone using the URL of a secure, legitimate website to a fake site. They are able to do this even if the URL of the victim website is typed correctly.
  • Phishing – Phishing is the use of fake emails, websites and text messages made to look like they are from an authentic company with the purpose of stealing personal information about you.
  • Malware – Malware is malicious software that cyber criminals can place on your device. It is one of the most common ways in which your device can be infected and once it has been applied, it can be used to alter/delete files, send emails on your behalf, intimidate people and reformat your hard drive so you lose all of your information or are unable to access it.
  • Trojan horses – Trojan Horses are one of the least commonly detected and most dangerous forms of security threat. A Trojan horse is a malicious file embedded or disguised within authentic software and will run automatically. Once the file is running, not only can it record your keystrokes and delete your files but it can also use your computer to hack others and spy on you through your webcam.
  • Spyware – Spyware is often used by cyber criminals but can also be used by people in authority if they suspect that someone is engaging in illegal activity. It goes completely undetected by the recipient and if someone is applying it maliciously, it can be difficult to remove once it has been activated on an infected computer.
  • Ransomware – Ransomware is a form of malware which restricts access to the infected device(s) until they (the perpetrator) release the lock. In most cases of ransomware, cybercriminals demand payment from the victim in order to remove the restriction.

Online safety tips

Although we can never be totally safe from attacks and security breaches online, there are things that we can do to reduce our chances of being targeted. The following tips will help you to stay as safe as possible online:

  • Use strong passwords – We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to use complex passwords. Use a system to create strong and memorable passwords and change them regularly.
  • Enable multi-factor authentication – Two-factor or multi-factor authentication adds another level to your personal security online. The more layers the better!
  • Make sure your network is secure – Remember that public Wi-Fi is often unsecured, leaving your device and information vulnerable to hackers.
  • Make sure you use a firewall – Even on secure networks, you should still use a firewall.
  • Protect your identity – Don’t share personal information publicly. The less information that is ‘out there’ the safer you are. Sharing is not always for caring!
  • Be scam aware – Check all emails carefully before clicking on any links or opening any files.
  • Do necessary updates – It can be annoying to keep updating devices and software but they often contain critical security updates. Better safe than sorry!