The essential 12-step guide to help you stay secure online and protect your online privacy
Written by a NortonLifeLock employee
We all want to be safe when we're online but the reality is that the person you really need protecting from might actually be yourself.
It’s a bit like when you go on social media and you see a friend saying how they were hacked because they clicked a link they shouldn’t have, which posted something dodgy on their profile.
They weren’t hacked; instead they triggered a set of actions that caused the problem.
A cybercriminal doesn't have to be a master hacker if you fail to take basic precautions with your online security. Prevention is better than cure and it doesn't take much to adopt some simple safeguards. With that in mind, we've come up with an ultimate guide to helping keep you safe when you're online.
Online security: a 12-step guide
1. Passwords are a big deal
Imagine you had one physical key that could unlock your house, your car, your workplace and your bank account. You'd be nervous about losing it, right?
Well, using one password across all your accounts is just as risky. Always use complex, unique passwords for each account to avoid a domino effect if your password is compromised. Consider two-step authentication for an additional layer of security on your accounts.
2. Think before you connect
Connecting to public Wi-Fi networks can be a risk, with man-in-the-middle attacks or digital eavesdropping being a possible issue. Any personal data you share on an unsecured or compromised Wi-Fi network could potentially be seen by strangers. Using a VPN when you connect to public Wi-Fi helps keep your information secure and encrypted so if anyone is watching, they won’t be able to steal your data.
3. Protect your device at all times
One of the simplest ways is to use an antivirus solution. You might think it's unnecessary but you only have to be wrong once to suffer the consequences. Protecting your devices with this kind of software gives you peace of mind and can help protect your device against spyware, ransomware, adware and other common cyberthreats.
4. Avoid suspect messages or attachments
Sending malicious links or attachments to potential victims is one of the oldest tricks in the cybercriminal book. If you get a message or email containing a suspicious link or attachment, just delete or ignore it. Even if it comes from a trusted friend, you should make sure that it's legit before clicking on it.
5. Change passwords on all connected devices
When you get a new Wi-Fi router, smart device or other connected piece of technology, always change the default password.
That removes a potential backdoor for unwanted visitors who might try to access your network or connected devices. Make sure your devices are password-protected to prevent people using your smart technology against you.
6. Trust your instincts
One of the most common security weaknesses that cybercriminals exploit is the victim themselves. This can come in the form of phishing, which uses social engineering to try to steal data like passwords, logins or sensitive user data.
Human error or negligence can sometimes be to blame so keep your wits about you. If something looks suspicious or raises alarm bells, trust your instincts or seek out advice from a trusted source.
7. Update your software
Always agree to automatic updates on your phone or computer. Updates often contain security patches designed to fix software vulnerabilities that could be exploited by cybercriminals. As soon as an update comes out, install it to make sure that cybercriminals can't take advantage of these vulnerabilities.
8. Customise your online privacy settings
Have you checked the privacy settings on all the online services or apps that you use? The privacy settings should be the first thing you check when using a new online service or app.
Do you know who can see your profile, what information is public, and whether the provider can share your personal data with third parties? Never accept the default privacy settings on an app, device or service.
9. Set a strong passcode on your phone
Your smartphone is a treasure trove of sensitive data that you don't want falling into the wrong hands. That's why you need a secure passcode to prevent anyone getting access to it. The passcode 000000 may be good enough for your mate John, but it shouldn't be good enough for you. Pick a code that's hard to guess and avoid obvious things like your date of birth.
10. Be careful with cookies
Web browser cookies store information about your browsing history on your device and retain your passwords or preferences for certain sites, which can be useful. They also provide a trail of breadcrumbs that a site owner can follow to see where you've been and what you've done. So you might want to consider deleting them for certain sites or setting up your privacy settings so that you don't retain cookies at all.
11. Don't overshare
Online oversharing can actually impact on your privacy and safety in the real world.
Think about changing your location settings. Do you need every social media post to reveal your precise location? Social oversharing can also come in the form of sensitive/embarrassing photos or updates that can take on a life of their own once they're published.
Always take a moment to consider whether you'd want your granny or a future employer to see a post before you hit send.
12. Exercise your rights over your privacy
One of your rights is the right to erasure. You can ask the provider of online services that you no longer use to delete any personal data that relates to you, like your date of birth, your bank details or your credit card number.
It may seem over the top but cleaning up your tracks reduces your online data footprint.
Your final step: install a security suite
While being smart online can protect you from lots of cyberthreats, sometimes something may go wrong. Installing a strong security suite can help keep your device safe from threats online.
Editorial note: Our articles provide educational information for you. NortonLifeLock offerings may not cover or protect against every type of crime, fraud, or threat we write about. Our goal is to increase awareness about cyber safety. Please review complete Terms during enrollment or setup. Remember that no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and that LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses.