Internet Safety 101: How to protect yourself online from cyber crime, bullying and more

Online safety begins with awareness, and knowing the threat that sits behind your computer.

Internet is arguably one of the most efficient and helpful resources available to us. From instantly looking up for information, to meeting our entertainment needs, to being a one-stop-shop for millions of things, we have a lot to thank for when it comes to the web. However, at the same time, and very unfortunately, the internet is also extremely dangerous, especially if you aren't aware of who and what lurks behind the scenes.

Every internet user should and must know how to be safe when surfing the web, but ironically internet safety tips and tricks are spread out all over the web and can be quite tricky themselves to be tracked.

Representative image.

Representative image.

Why do we need online safety?

With the influence and reach of internet only increasing, instances of cyber crimes, especially against women and children such as cyber stalking, cyber bullying, cyber harassment, child pornography, rape content, etc. are at an all-time high. In 2017, more than 53,000 cyber security incidents like phishing, website intrusions and defacements, virus and ransomware attacks were observed. Another report this year suggested that in India, one cyber-crime gets reported every 10 minutes. And with the world's second largest internet population we desperately and urgently need lessons on how to be safe.

How to be safe on the internet?

The first step to safety on the internet comes from awareness. This means, you as a user must know what’s out there, if you are a parent, you need to know the threats your child could face on the web, you need to understand the ways cybercriminals could affect your employees. We need to aim for a very closely knit safety net to survive the horrors of the internet.

We recently came across Ministry of Home Affairs’ website, which stipulates online safety tips in the most effective manner.

If you are a parent:

Initiate a conversation:

In the year 2018, as a parent, to ban internet for your child is both impractical and unfair. Internet is no more just about games, and social media, majority of the school assignments now need you to rely on the web. But what you can do is, set some guidelines for internet and online games usage; initiate a conversation with your kids about online threats such as bullying, and stalking. You will need to keep track of their online activities, and also monitor their behaviour.

Beware of cyber grooming:

A horrible-horrible bane of the internet is existence of a crime so popular that it has its own name now. Called ‘Cyber Grooming’, it means that an adult is getting to know and befriend a child with the intention of sexually abusing them.

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While the ideal way to go about this would be to restrict your child’s interaction to only people they and you know, but the webverse’s constant obsession with “popularity” sometimes makes children want to interact with strangers. For instance, they may disable privacy settings to be discovered by more followers on Instagram. And in such cases, all kinds of people get an opportunity to interact with your child.

Like the cyber crime website mentions, “If your child begins to spend more time online and starts being defensive or secretive about their online activities, it may be an indicator of cyber grooming. Talk to your child about spending less time online or engage your child in other activities.”

Keep away from suspicious links:

Child or not, falling for suspicious links can be easy. More often than not, these malicious links imitate a genuine page or website or even person, so well, that it is hard to tell if it’s a trick. However, the golden rule here would be to just never click on links or files received in e-mail, text message or social media from an unknown person.

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Those webcams may be watching:

Almost all laptops in the market now come with a webcam in it. While the negative conversation around the webcams on a computer have been around for a while, the issue received a special spotlight in 2016, when a picture of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg showed how he taped his laptop’s microphone and webcam.

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No, that’s not just paranoia! A web camera if hacked or compromised can be leveraged as a medium to observe/watch and record your day to day activities. So if your child is in their room with their laptop a lot, let them know that they must cover the camera at all time, unless they are making a video call.

If you are an adult:

If you are an adult you probably think you have at least the internet under control (if not life, job finances and everything else), since you grew up with it. Not to burst your bubble, but things on the web can get out of hand in a jiffy, and the best way is to keep your accounts secure.

You and social media:

Keep your posts on social media private. If you don’t, then any photo or video you share, can be viewed, downloaded and then used by others without your knowledge.

If you have someone known or unknown on a social media platform, who makes your uncomfortable, report them, block them, and remove them from your friend list.

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In case you use any other device, mobile, laptop, or computer, other than your own, to access your social media accounts, bank accounts or any other website that carries delicate information, always remember to use the incognito mode and logout once you are done. A strong password with a mixture of upper and lower case alphabets, special characters and number, is a must.

In case you ever notice a fake account in your name, or with your picture, immediately report it to the social media service provider.

You and them:

Feeling adventurous and exploring the web may be exciting, but it is extremely dangerous. If you ever communicate over video calls with absolute stranger, be mindful of your appearance because there have been instances of these calls being recorded and posted online, without consent of the person.

Your phone may not be your best friend:

Do not ever use smartphones to take sensitive personal photographs and videos. Android phones, come with an option for Cloud backups, and most of us have that turned on by default. While this makes it very easy to revisit all photographs and create a safe bank, but this also means that when a picture or video is clicked by on a phone connected with the cloud, it may get saved automatically into the cloud. Even if you delete the photos or videos from the phone, the same photo or video can be recovered from the cloud account or any other device/ PC connected to the cloud using same account.

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And in case someone else has taken a sensitive photograph of you using a smartphone, then take it seriously and make sure to get it deleted from their phone, the cloud and any other device connected using the same account.

Make the creeps stop:

Besides being creepy on many level, cyber stalkers are also persistent. They remain at it despite clear indication of disinterest. They use internet, email, social media or any other form of electronic communication for stalking. Which is why, you make sure you share none of that information on the web. Disable location services for social media sites, mobile devices etc. Refrain from sharing your phone number, e-mail address, photographs with unknown people.

What happens to your data?

To begin with, trust no one. When you give your mobile or PC’s for servicing or repair or sell it off, make sure you reset them to factory setting and each and every bit of your personal information is off it.

Don’t share your passwords, PIN, Pattern or biometric information with anyone, even people you know.

Thumb rule for EVERY internet user:

Regardless of if you are a parent, a teenager, an adult, an organisation, there are certain rules of being an internet user that are basic, and you must never bypass them.

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Stay up to date:

A lot of people keep snoozing these updates, but hackers target software vulnerabilities to access your private information and putting you at risk, so make sure you have updated all your software with the latest security patches. Never install software, games, music and apps from unknown sources.

Secure browser settings:

Always choose updated version of the browser and install safe browsing tools to protect yourself from hackers and malware.

REPORT:

If you ever think you are a victim of any form of cyber crime, know that you are not the one to be ashamed. It’s the criminal who needs to be ashamed, and punished. Don’t shut yourself out, talk about it, with your friends, family, or anyone you think you can let your heart out to. And finally, report any such occurrence to the authorities.

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