Man using computer at coffee shop

6 Tips to Improve Your Internet Security

When you’re online, you should be having fun or finding enlightenment, not feeling threatened by the potential dangers of surfing in treacherous waters. That’s why STE Communications is offering a few tips to help you improve your internet security and breathe (and browse) easier.

Know where your cookies are stored.

Most websites put “cookies” on your computer so that, when you return to the site, your passwords and other personal information are remembered. Often, cookies are helpful—it’s convenient to return to a website you trust and be recognized. But cookies also track your movements across sites and build a profile of you based on your activity. These cookies, from sites or ad companies you may not know about, are the ones you don’t want. So, it’s important to know where cookies are stored and how to get rid of them. Here’s an easy guide to finding cookies on several popular browsers.

Public Wi-Fi connections aren’t always secure.

It’s understandable to have a laptop in a public place, need a Wi-Fi connection, and be thrilled when you find one that doesn’t require a password to join. But beware of public Wi-Fi networks you don’t know. If you connect, it’s possible for your activity to be tracked, your passwords to be stolen, and other sensitive information like credit card numbers to be at risk. Only connect to public Wi-Fi networks you trust. Also, double check that the network you’re seeing is the actual network you want. You might see “Starbucks Public Wi-Fi” and “Starbucks FREE” in the same location—make sure you know which one is legit. When in doubt, don’t connect.

Download only from trustworthy sources.

When you download something to your computer, be certain it’s legitimate and harmless before you click the download button. For example, if you do a search for “Download Chrome,” you’ll see results from Google (which makes Chrome), but you’ll also see a lot of phony sites that promise a Google download but are likely going to give you something you don’t want, like malware or viruses.

For personal information, security is a must.

When you put sensitive information onto a website—like your social security or credit card numbers—make sure you are on a secure website. Websites with SSL (secure sockets layer) certificates encrypt your personal information to ensure it’s not easily accessible to hacking. There are two simple things to check in order to verify that you’re browsing securely: (1) check the address you are browsing and make sure you see “https” and not just “http” (“s” stands for secure), or (2) look for the padlock icon in the address bar, which some browsers use to confirm you’re on a secure site.

Looks can be deceiving.

A common scam, called “phishing,” is to send an email that appears to be from your bank or a company you regularly do business with that asks you to update your password or personal information. Often, there will be an urgent call to action—for instance, a threat to close the account unless you act immediately. Clicking on the link they give you will direct you to a website that looks right, but if you check the address bar, you’ll notice it doesn’t quite match the address of the official site (it may be off by only a single letter or number!). Entering your private information at one of these sites is considered very risky. When in doubt, don’t click the link. Enter the website address you know and trust and contact the company directly to see if there is a problem with your account.

Once you put something out there, it’s out there.

Even when you’re sure a website is legitimate, there are times when you might not want to share your personal information. Sites like Facebook may not be as careful with your data as you wish they were, but they only have access to as much information as you give them. If a website won’t let you register without a certain piece of information, consider whether access to the website is worth giving out that particular piece of information. On a related note, if you use social media, make sure your privacy settings are up to date. This guide can help you do that.

Generally speaking, the internet isn’t really a scary place but, just like wearing a helmet or putting on a seatbelt, a small measure of precaution can provide a large measure of security. If you follow the tips above, you’ll be safe and secure when you’re online.