Online safety: 5 tips to be safe online

The average Australian spends 5 hours and 34 minutes online each day [1]. That’s just under 39 hours per week – nearly one full-time work week. In other words, most Australians spend a lot of time online. As such, online safety is extremely important.

While the internet is often a wonderful and diverse place, it can also be harmful and even dangerous when misused. For every time you’ve connected with friends or Googled a random piece of trivia at a moment’s notice, there have probably also been times where your privacy was at risk, or you were exposed to nasty treatment on social media.  

So, to help create a safer internet for everyone, Safer Internet Day is an annual, worldwide event which will be held on Tuesday, February 5th 2019. Safer Internet Day encourages people to develop four critical skills for online safety: respect, responsibility, reasoning, and resilience. This year, the theme is ‘together for a better internet’.

Since Safer Internet Day encourages everyone to play their part in promoting online safety, we have put together 5 online safety tips, to help you have a safe, secure, and satisfying online experience!

#1 Think critically

Online safety

Unfortunately, just because something is posted online, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. Sometimes, lies are easy to spot – it’s safe to assume that the Nigerian prince asking for your credit card details won’t really make you rich, for example. Yet, due to rapid and sophisticated technological advances, there are times when it can be difficult to differentiate fact from fiction. While some online hoaxes can be relatively harmless, others, particularly those which ask you to share personal information, can be seriously damaging.

While it is hard to quantify exactly how much of the internet is truly trustworthy, studies have found 77% of Australians believe they have been exposed to ‘fake news’ at some point [2]. Consequently, to support the Safer Internet Day skill of ‘reasoning’, it is extremely important to think critically by evaluating the authenticity and reliability of every site you visit. When making this critical evaluation, consider factors like the author and source of the information that you are accessing.

On the bright side, many Australians already practise good online safety habits, with surveys finding 80% believe they can differentiate between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ news, and 76% taking time to assess the validity of material they access [2].

#2 Read the terms and conditions (yes, really)

Online safety

When was the last time you read the terms and conditions, rather than just blindly clicking ‘accept’? Actually, let us rephrase that: have you ever fully read the terms and conditions? If the answer is ‘no’, don’t feel too bad, because you’re definitely not alone. In fact, studies show that 91% of users accept legal terms and conditions without reading them first [3]. This is despite 80% believing companies use their personal data, and 78% thinking their personal data is shared with third parties.

Unfortunately, terms and conditions are often too long and complex for most people to read, let alone comprehend. Still, to support the Safer Internet Day skill of ‘responsibility’, it is important to make informed online decisions, particularly when it comes to privacy and sharing personal information. If you are among the vast majority of people who don’t have time to read every set of terms and conditions you encounter, don’t worry, because there are still things you can do to improve your online safety.

Firstly, try to at least read the privacy policy, as this will usually detail what personal information is being collected from you, who has access to that information, and what the information will be used for. Knowing this can help you make an informed decision about your online safety. Further, there are many apps, such as ‘Terms of Service, Didn’t Read’, which summarise the terms and conditions of major companies and give them an overall rating. Depending on what factors you value most, this can help you to make safer online decisions.

#3 Beware what you share

Online safety

Picture this: you’re on holiday, living it up on a stunning, golden beach. The sun is starting to set, creating the perfect backdrop for the perfect selfie. Better yet, you have come up with an awesome caption that you’re dying to use. While you’re understandably itching to share this photo with your followers, it’s important to consider a few things before you do. Unfortunately, posting vacation photos can alert people that you’re not home, which can increase your risk of break-in and burglary. The same goes for many social media posts, which can often unwittingly include compromising information.

While this doesn’t mean you should stop posting on social media altogether, it’s important to be aware of exactly what you’re posting, and the potential implications. This is especially true if you are ‘friends’ with people on social media who you don’t know in real life. If this is the case, ensure you regularly review your privacy settings to make sure you’re only sharing information with the people you intend to.

#4 Follow the golden rule

Online safety

While this is a good guide for all aspects of life, it’s particularly important to follow the ‘golden rule’ online. Treat others the way you would want to be treated. Simple in theory, but often overlooked online. Due to their relative anonymity, people often feel more comfortable saying things online that they wouldn’t say in real life. However, the basic principles of respecting other people don’t change just because you’re online.

Supporting the ‘respect’ aspect of Safer Internet Day, it’s important to follow the ‘golden rule’ while online. Whether you’re posting on social media, commenting on an article, or chatting with friends, treating others with respect should always come first. This also includes sticking up for others if you encounter online bullying or other unacceptable behaviours!

#5 Update your passwords regularly

Online safety

How often do you change your passwords? If you have to think about it, then the answer is most likely ‘not often enough’. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Surveys show that 11% of users never change their passwords, 18.5% only change their passwords after being notified of security issues, and 31% change their passwords only 1-2 times per year. All up, that’s 60.5% of users who change their passwords less than 2 times per year. A further 60% report reusing their passwords across multiple accounts, while 44% do not create sufficiently complex passwords [4]. While it seems convenient to choose one password and stick with it, this can put your online safety at risk – particularly for things like emails, social media, and online banking. The good news is that it’s easy to rectify these bad habits.

To practise better password security, remember a few easy tips. Firstly, create complex passwords. This means ‘password’ and ‘123456’ simply won’t cut it. Ideally, a strong password should be long (10+ characters) and should include a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as punctuation and numbers. Further, you should avoid writing your passwords down or storing them in unsecure documents on your computer. If you have trouble remembering your passwords, there are plenty of secure digital password managers that can assist you.

Try to avoid ‘obvious’ passwords, such as your pet’s name, your birthday, or your favourite hobbies. Additionally, you should never reuse the same password for multiple accounts, should update your passwords regularly (every three months, at least), and should use multi-factor authentication for important accounts whenever possible.

[1] https://wearesocial.com/au/blog/2018/02/2018-digital-report-australia

[2] http://landing.deloitte.com.au/rs/761-IBL-328/images/tmt-media-consumer-survey-2017-INB_pdf.pdf

[3] https://www.businessinsider.com.au/deloitte-study-91-percent-agree-terms-of-service-without-reading-2017-11?r=US&IR=T

[4] https://digitalguardian.com/blog/uncovering-password-habits-are-users-password-security-habits-improving-infographic

This post was brought to you by Budget Direct Home Insurance

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