The Internet presents immense opportunities to learn, earn an income and communicate. However, it can also leave you vulnerable to identity theft, hacking and a plethora of scams. Families need to know how to be safe when surfing the web. It is especially important for elderly people and children who may be easily taken in by people online. However, anyone can be a victim.
Here are ten things you need to do to keep your family safe online and five signs that something is wrong.
1. Remind Your Family Not to Disclose Personal Information Online
Younger children should not be allowed to share their name, photo, phone number or address with people on the Internet. As much as possible, you should supervise them when they are online. Older children who are active on Facebook or Instagram should be encouraged to be careful about what they share. Remind them about the dangers of posting suggestive photos even if they think only one person will see them. For older members of your household, advise them not to share their social security number or send money to people claiming to be their friends.
2. Teach Your Children the Dangers of Meeting Online Friends in Person
The Internet is a great way to meet other young people who share similar interests. However, not everyone who claims to be a teenager is actually a young person. Since your child has no way of verifying that someone is who they say they are, make sure they understand that they should not arrange to meet anyone without discussing it with a trusted adult.
3. Talk about How to Evaluate Information Found Online
You can learn a lot on the Internet but not everything is accurate or relevant. Teach your child how to compare multiple sources of information before they decide that something they read is factual. Introduce them to trusted sites which publish well-researched information about their personal interests or favorite school subjects.
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4. Encourage Caution When Downloading Apps
5. Know How to Identify Phishing Scams
Many older people get taken in by emails purporting to be from a friend or relative. These phishing emails may ask them to confirm a password or bank account number or prompt them to click a malicious attachment. Make sure every member of your family knows how to identify these emails. Remind them that banks and government departments will not ask them for personal information in an email. Also, discuss how to identify genuine email addresses and websites. Phishing emails are often poorly written and designed to incite panic so your family should also be on the lookout for this.
6. Discuss What Not to Post on Social Media
You’re probably excited about going on your first family vacation in years. However, it’s not a good idea to tell everyone on Facebook that your entire family will be away for two weeks. Internet hackers may not care but burglars will certainly welcome the information. Unless you have top-notch home security, make sure everyone waits until you’ve returned home to publicly share that photo of everyone at the airport. This won’t guarantee the safety of your home and its contents, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to be careful. On a related note, discourage your children from sharing their exact location on social media, especially if they are alone.
7. Make Sure Everyone Has a VPN on Their Mobile Devices
More and more malls and restaurants are offering free Wi-Fi. While this is obviously helpful, it can also put your information at risk since these networks are easy to hack. A secure VPN can help protect your family if they have to log on to a public Wi-Fi connection.
8. Close Accounts You No Longer Use
Do you have old MySpace or Hi5 accounts which you haven’t looked at in years? Even if you haven’t logged in since 2008, your information is still there. You may have even signed up with your full name and birthdate as your user name, making yourself vulnerable to cybercriminals. Teenagers often sign up for the hottest new thing and then move on to something else after a few weeks so remind them to close the old accounts.
9. Look Beyond Your Computer
Internet safety is not only about what you do on the computer. Your Wi-Fi network itself can be hacked. If you have a security system and other devices connected to the Internet, they can all be compromised. Make sure you have a strong Wi-Fi password and consider getting software which alerts you to suspicious activity on the network.
10. Choose Strong Passwords
It may be easy to use “password123” or the name of your pet as your password but it’s certainly not safe. Since really strong passwords are hard to remember, it’s best to get a password manager to help you manage all your logins. Remind your family to choose passwords that are at least 15 characters long with a mixture of letters, numbers and special characters.
How to Tell if Your Network or Device Has Been Compromised
If you’ve been lax with your internet security, it’s possible one of your family’s devices has been hacked. Here are five tell-tale signs to look for:
- Your Internet has slowed down. If your videos suddenly start buffering for long periods or websites take really long to load, you may think it’s the fault of your ISP. However, if your Internet speed test returns unusually slow speeds, hackers maybe re-directing your Internet elsewhere.
- Apps and programs are crashing. If legitimate apps and even your anti-virus software become disabled, this is a clear sign you’ve been hacked.
- There are shortcuts on your home screen or bookmarks on your browser that you didn’t put there. This is evidence that your computer has been infected by malware.
- Your device suddenly restarts. This is different from a prompt to install updates followed by a reboot.
- You notice unexplained email or social media activity. Are there messages in your outbox which you didn’t send? Are there strange posts coming from grandma’s Facebook account?
These, along with suspicious charges on your bank statement, are all signs of cybercrime. You need to reach out to a professional in your area for assistance.
There’s a lot you can do to protect your family on the Internet. Reliance on web-based activity is only likely to get even more prevalent so there is no turning back now. Take the necessary steps to ensure everyone in your household can use the Internet safely.