Staying safe online

Staying safe online and keeping your data secure with cloud storage

Superfast broadband brings a wealth of possibilities for your home and your business. It opens up avenues for better entertainment, faster research, social promotion and countless other benefits; but it’s worth remembering that the internet is not a one-way street. There are other users online too, some with malicious intentions that may be looking at your home or business network as a potential target. But you’re not defenceless. There are many simple measures you can take to stay safe online and keep your personal information secure.

Staying safe online at home

Just as you keep an intruder alarm on your home, it’s worth keeping similar measures in place on your computers and online devices. The most popular way to stay safe online is to install an anti-virus program. Anti-virus software can let you know when malicious software attempts to break-and-enter, removing it without a struggle. This can be expensive however, as reliable anti-virus software usually requires a monthly or annual subscription.

The best way to stay safe online is to develop a list of trusted sites – websites you know you can visit without worrying about malicious activity – and blocking all other sites that may contain content that can harm your computer and home network. You can do this through your computer’s online security settings. If you have children, this can also be a great way of keeping them safe from adult content when they’re browsing the web.

Downloading files and information safely

Careless browsing is a common way for viruses and similar threats to assail your computer and online devices, but it’s by no means the only method. File downloads – whether from an email with attachments, from a file-sharing site, or from a link online – can come with concealed malicious software that may attack your computer once the downloaded file is opened.

Some anti-virus services can scan new downloads for stowaways before they’re opened. This can be useful, but isn’t a guaranteed solution, as many modern viruses can easily slip past the filters. The best way to stay safe is to know where your downloaded file has come from. If it’s a trusted site, or a trusted uploader, you should be safe. When the trustworthiness of a source is uncertain, it’s best to avoid accepting downloads from that location.

Common terms for malicious software

You may have heard of ‘computer viruses’, but what about the other common terms, such as Trojans? Here’s a short list explaining what each term means.

  • Adware: Software that automatically makes adverts open on your computer.
  • Bloatware: Software that starts a number of background tasks to overwhelm a computer’s CPU, making other tasks noticeably slower.
  • Malware: Contracted term for ‘malicious software’.
  • Spy-ware: Software that gathers personal information without your knowledge or consent.
  • Trojan horses: Executable files containing malicious software that only comes into effect once the file has been activated.
  • Worms: Malicious software that self-replicates to spread to other computers and devices.

Watch out for suspicious emails

Your email account is another location where you must remain vigilant to stay protected against online threats. Many modern email systems contain spam filters to weed out and separate unsolicited and suspicious emails from your main inbox, but it’s always likely that a few will slip through. If you see an email in your inbox, always be careful. Look at the sender’s name and the subject. There are usually indications here if the email should be treated as suspicious. Emails that appear to be from banking or financial institutions should always be regarded with caution, as should messages from foreign accounts or governmental bodies.

These emails are referred to as ‘phishing emails’. They often lure you in with the promise of free content, information, or money, and ask you to click on a link or download a file. The key to staying safe with emails is to follow the old adage; if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Keep your personal information private

It’s inevitable that at some point you’ll have to enter your personal details online. This may be to buy a product, register interest in a service, or to check your balance online through your bank’s website. Before you do, be sure to check the following.

Make sure your computer is clean of viruses and spyware. If it isn’t, malicious individuals may be able to log your details. This may result in your bank account being compromised or your personal details being sold to an unscrupulous marketing company.

Ensure that the URL of the website you’re using begins with HTTPS. These letters, found before the common ‘www.’ stand for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure, and are a key communications protocol for keeping any information you enter on that website safe. Most reliable websites have incorporated this into their URLs, usually on the forms you need to fill in to pay for or access a service or product.

Look for the ‘lock’ symbol in the address bar. Like HTTPS, the lock symbol guarantees that any data you enter will be kept secure.

Keep your business safe from online threats

Your business is just as vulnerable to online threats as your home system. Hackers and malicious users don’t just target large companies, they also target small businesses as they can provide routes into larger corporations and often have fewer security measures in place.

A business with no online protection will almost certainly be subject to an attack at one time or another. Installing anti-virus software is a standard first step in keeping your data secure, but while this is often enough to keep your home network safe, it’s usually not enough to keep your business secure.

Five methods to keep your business safe online

As we’ve mentioned, installing anti-virus software is a positive first step in keeping your business safe online. Here are five more methods.

  1. Set up a Firewall. This is an essential technology that creates a barrier between your internal network and the external (internet) network. They are usually manually configurable, so you can set up exceptions and levels of censorship to suit your company.
  2. Encrypt your files. Encryption involves the integration of a password that needs to be known in order to open a particular file. You can encrypt most files and hard drives. Many online storage and back-up sites also include the option to encrypt your files.
  3. Create a whitelist. A whitelist allows you to control which individuals have access to the computers and devices on your business network by asking them to authorise their access with a password and username.
  4. Choose a secure email service. Some email account providers regularly monitor the content of emails to improve marketing knowledge. To avoid this, look for an email provider that has a strong privacy policy, and that allows you to encrypt emails.
  5. Keep your employees up-to-date on security. If individuals know where the risks are online, they’ll be more likely to stay safe when working over the internet. E-learning courses in data security are available online.

Back up your files and resources online with cloud storage

Cloud storage presents a new, secure way to keep your important information safe from online threats and network catastrophes. It’s also a great way to store vast amounts of information when you simply don’t have the physical space to operate several data servers.

Superfast broadband makes cloud storage a more viable option. Thanks to the increase in download and upload speeds you can quickly access externally stored files. This also means you can create regular back-ups of important data to keep them safe in the event of the original files being lost or destroyed on your internal drives.

Some cloud storage providers encrypt your files online to increase security. Others don’t, and you’ll have to encrypt files yourself before you upload to prevent potential security problems. You can also encrypt your cloud storage account itself to restrict access to only those users who have been given authorisation. No matter which cloud provider you decide to use, be sure to read its privacy policy thoroughly before you start saving your important and sensitive files online.

Produced by Ofcom-accredited comparison site Cable.co.uk

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