Top 10 (Ageless) Online Security Tips

Contrary to belief, experience doesn’t always come with age. Younger PC users actually know more about online risks and security threats than those in their 50s and 60s. But whilst they are more experienced ‘online’ and aware of the associated risks, they don’t actually practice this knowledge, leaving both their device and online identity unprotected. The decision amongst teens, to prioritise online social activities above online security, is largely due to the cost implications of using and installing up-to-date AV software.

As expected, those over 50 years prioritise computer security and are cautious about the risks of online threats. Unlike teens, they are willing to front the cost of paid for anti-virus suites and actively use the software to protect themselves online. But good intentions don’t always lead to good practice, because whilst concerned with safer computing, ‘over 50s’ lack the security knowledge shared by teens, and in actual fact experience more security issues than all of the younger age groups.

Being proactive with personal online security doesn’t have to be an inconvenience and should be a priority for everyone. Here are 10 ways to get you started:

1. Get back to the basics

It sounds simple, but regularly updating your computer’s operating system and software is one of the most important ways to protect it, as updates are often how companies address a possible security issue. Plus, it’s simple. You can easily configure your operating system to automatically check for updates.

2. Don’t be click happy

More than 9,500 malicious websites are detected by Google every single day, including legitimate sites that have been hijacked by those that are designated to spread malware. Stay safe by being wary of the links you click. It’s always a good idea to hover over links so that you can review the full address before clicking. Finally, always keep your two-way firewall and antivirus up-to-date and active.

3. Pay attention to the latest social changes

Small changes can cause big problems if you’re not careful. For example, Facebook changed its default email for account users to @facebook.com, which means that a whole new group of marketers and spammers will be able to contact you much more easily than ever before. Whether you like this (or not), adjust your privacy settings to protect yourself from possible issues.

4. Passwords, passwords, passwords

Always create strong passwords for online accounts, and include letters, numbers, and symbols. Longer passwords (at least 8-10 characters) are more secure and help prevent brute force attacks. Also, try not to use the same password for multiple sites. If a password is compromised on one site, it may allow hackers to into other accounts with the same credentials. If you have trouble remembering all of your passwords, try using an online password manager, such as LastPass. Alternatively, you can also keep track by setting up a simple spreadsheet. Instead of recording the actual password, type out a hint. Just be sure to password protect the document.

5. Gamers, keep security software on

Don’t disable your security software when gaming. Yes, experiencing a high-speed connection with minimal interruptions is important, but not at the expense of security. Instead, look for “game mode” in your security software. This setting will never interrupt you while you’re in the middle of your game. It will also keep you protected.

6. Protect against P2P and pirated software

The best solution is to simply never use P2P sites to download pirated software and, instead, download your files from the original software developer. If you still choose to take that risk, you should at least take a few precautions, like reading the user comments before you download the file. Keep in mind that many of today’s popular P2P sites offer a pretty accurate rating system that can provide you with a sense of just how these downloadable files have performed for other users.

7. Beware of social engineering attacks

Cyber criminals scour media sites all the time to learn all they can about potential targets. They’ll use the information they gather to send you highly-targeted emails, pretending to be from someone you know, such as your boss, a friend or family member. Watch what you say online and be cautious of request links you receive on your social media profile. Revealing too much information like middle name or a pet can be just enough to tip off a cyber criminal.

8. Choose your friends carefully

There’s nothing like making connections via Facebook and other social networking sites. However, it’s important to make sure you take the time to filter who you accept into your inner circle. If you get a friend request from someone you haven’t spoken to in years or someone you don’t know, a social bot may be using this as an opportunity to hack into your network. They could exploit the trust you have built on Facebook and Twitter to send emails or notifications to your networks, using your access, information, and persona to solicit and spread malware to others’ computers.

9. Take care when downloading videos

Sharing, streaming and downloading online videos is becoming an increasingly popular activity. Be careful when downloading videos, as this activity could be a hotbed for viruses. If you don’t have the most up-to-date video player, download it directly from a trustworthy source. Never install software from file-sharing sites when trying to view a video, and keep in mind that downloading a video by itself should never require running an executable (.exe) file.

10. Be cautious when using Wi-Fi hotspots

Most people are thrilled when they encounter free Wi-Fi hotspots. Before you connect, verify that the Wi-Fi network name (SSID) is from a legitimate service. Do not connect to random, unsecured Wi-Fi networks as it increases your risk, and try to use a Virtual Private Network when possible. A VPN allows you to route all your activity through a separate, secure, private network, even if you’re on a public one. Several services are available, or you can even go with an app like Hotspot Shield, which sets up a VPN for you automatically.

Staying vigilant is a good start, but its just not enough. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, no matter what your age. You will not only avoid becoming another statistic, you’ll also do your part to keep the Internet safe for your online community.

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Skyler King is product leader for ZoneAlarm, a Check Point Software Technologies consumer business, and maker of ZoneAlarm antivirus and firewall.