A Guide To Protecting Yourself Online

Secure your online business against threats by following these simple steps.

We live in an online world. Despite the protestations of Luddites and the privacy-obsessed, Ofcom reported last year that the average Briton spends twenty minutes longer online each day than they spend asleep. Computing and the internet powered the writing of this blog, your reading of it, and the entire business model of the company behind our website. Resistance is futile, as the Borg once declared in Star Trek.

Unfortunately, the internet reflects wider society in that many of its denizens have questionable ulterior motives. Hackers and cyber-criminals stalk the World Wide Web looking for weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and one of their favourite tactics is to seize sensitive personal information. This might be done by keystroke logging, hacking into a company’s website, a phishing email or mirroring a user’s screen. However, it can also be done simply by guessing a badly-chosen password, or sitting down at a shared computer when the previous user hasn’t logged off.

So how can you surf the ‘net securely?

From the perspective of an individual web user, protecting personal information is crucial to preventing identity theft or fraud, as well as avoiding the social horrors of a hacked social media account or inappropriate content being sent to your entire contacts list. The first step everyone should take is to ditch their existing passwords in favour of something very difficult to guess, like your first car registration in reverse order, or an anagram of a former address. Either of these would be safer than choosing Mycroft1 in honour of your Facebook-tagged dog. While some IT experts recommend changing passwords regularly, it’s often better to choose one that nobody could ever guess and memorise it, rather than saving it on your computer in a .txt file called “Password list”. This really does happen. In a similar vein, online password storage sites are an obvious target for the criminally minded, and are generally best avoided.

Regular technological housekeeping is also important. Install an antivirus package which  will detect malware or spyware as well as advise on the integrity of individual website addresses. HTTPS prefixes and padlock symbols provide tangible evidence that all is well and secure with a website. Don’t surf the net using an out-of-date web browser that hasn’t been patched for vulnerabilities, but do enable automatic updates of operating systems. Never click on a link in an email unless you’re absolutely certain of its legitimacy, since some phishing messages can be surprisingly authentic.

The security of your connection is also important. Don’t use an unsecured Wi-Fi network (such as in a café), particularly for financial activities, and ensure your home hub has Wi-Fi Protected Access (usually abbreviated to WPA2). Another useful tip involves fully erasing the hard drives of any devices before disposing of them, including smartphones and old laptops. A computer can be rescued from a skip by a total stranger, and then plundered for cookies and sensitive data stored in dark recesses of the hard drive. Although a full format erase should suffice, don’t be afraid to take the hard drive apart with a Torx screwdriver and physically score or burn the disc so it can never reboot.

And for businesses?

From a corporate perspective, earning the trust of website visitors can be undertaken with relative ease. Firstly, write a privacy policy detailing what will happen to provided information, and stick to it religiously. Ensure you don’t ask for irrelevant details, but do delete outdated information on a regular basis. Most importantly of all, host the data in such a way that malicious interference is minimised. An effective web hosting company will provide secure servers and firewall protection, while two-stage login authentication always provides reassurance. Sites hosted with WordPress can call upon a variety of security plugins covering everything from firewall rule management to GeoIP banning, and e-commerce sites can now choose from a smorgasbord of tools to ensure transaction integrity.

If you’re setting up in business online, give us a call today on 0800 612 2142 to speak to one of our experts about securing your business website and providing the safest online experience for your customers.