Internet Safety Begins with All of Us
Now’s the time to pause for a moment and consider just how important the internet is to us. Not just any internet. A safer internet.
June marks Internet Safety Month. Why June? The original thought was that the onset of summer sees more kids online, making it an ideal time for a fresh look at internet safety in our homes. Now, with millions of us worldwide finding ourselves online more than before due to stay-at-home guidance from our localities or employers, Internet Safety Month 2020 is much more important to observe. We’re working more online, playing more online, and schooling more online, and making all kinds of changes in our routines that make the internet the cornerstone of our day.
Indeed, we’re counting more and more on the internet, now more so than ever. A safer internet isn’t a nice thing to have. It’s a necessity. And there’s plenty we can do to make it happen.
Each of us has a hand in a safer internet
While a safer internet may seem like it’s somewhat out of our hands as individuals, the truth is that each of us play a major role in making it so. As members, contributors, and participants who hop on the internet daily, our actions can make the internet a safer place.
So, specifically what can we do? Take a few moments this month to ponder these three categories and the questions that follow. Using them can help frame your thinking about internet safety and how you can make yourself, and others, safer.
- Internet Security – How am I keeping my devices safe?
- Internet Safety – How am I keeping myself and my family safe?
- Internet Ethics – How am I treating other people online?
How am I keeping my devices safe? Device safety is relatively straightforward provided you take the steps to ensure it. You can protect your things with comprehensive security software, use an internet router that protects all the connected devices in your home -, you can update your software, and you can use strong passwords with the help of a password manager.
Put another way, internet security is another aspect of home maintenance. Just as you mow your lawn, swap out the batteries in your smoke alarm, or change the filters in your heating system, much goes the same for the way you should look after computers, tablets, phones, and connected devices in your home. They need your regular care and maintenance as well. Again, good security software can handle so much of this automatically or with relatively easy effort on your part.
If you’re wondering where to start with looking after the security of your devices, check out our article on how to become an IT pro in your home—it makes the process easy by breaking down the basics into steps that build your confidence along the way.
How am I keeping myself and my family safe? This entails topics like identity theft, personal data privacy, cyberbullying, screen time, when to get a smartphone for your child, and learning how to spot scams online. Certainly you have tools to assist with these concerns, such as identity theft protection services and virtual private networks (VPNs) that encrypt your personal information, plus apps that make going online safer for kids like parental control software and built-in browser advisors that help you search and surf safely.
However, internet safety goes beyond devices. It’s a mindset. A savvy. As with driving a car, so much of our online safety relies on our behaviors and good judgment. For example, one piece of research found that ninety-one percent of all cyberattacks start with phishing email where people click on links that they could really think twice about and end up the victim of an attack. Research bears this out. Tomas Holt, professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University, states, “An individual’s characteristics are critical in studying how cybercrime perseveres, particularly the person’s impulsiveness and the activities that they engage in while online that have the greatest impact on their risk.” Put another way, scammers bank on an itchy clicker-finger—where a quick click opens the door for an attack.
With that, here’s some general guidance on behaviors that can keep you safer:
- Look out for phishing red flags. If you notice that the “from” address in an email looks like a slightly altered brand name or if it is an unknown source altogether, don’t interact with the message.
- Be skeptical of emails claiming to come from legitimate companies. If you receive an email asking to confirm your login credentials, go directly to the company’s website or app. You should be able to check the status of your account there to determine the legitimacy of the request.
- When searching, give the results a good look before clicking. Ask yourself if the website you want to click is legitimate—are there any red flags, like a strange URL, an unfamiliar name, a familiar brand name with an unusual addition to it, or a description that simply doesn’t feel right when you read it. If so, don’t click. Better yet, use a built-in browser advisor that helps you search and surf safely like we mentioned earlier. It’ll call out any known or suspected bad links clearly before you click.
These are just a few examples, yet hopefully it conveys the idea: we all need to be sharp when we’re online. That goes for our children and our parents who may be older too, as these behaviors may be new to them. Moreover, the reasons why these behaviors are so important may be new to them as well. They simply may not be aware of the risks and scams that are out there. In that case, the best protection starts with a conversation. Shine a light on the risks that are out there and help them develop a critical eye for the suspicious links and emails they’re bound to come across in their travels. That, in addition to comprehensive security software, will help keep them safe.
How am I treating other people online? A big part of a safer internet is us. Specifically, how we treat each other—and how we project ourselves to friends, family, and the wider internet. With so much of our communication happening online through the written word or posted pictures, together they create a climate around each of us, which can take on an uplifting air or mire you in a cloud of negativity. What’s more, it’s largely out there for all to see. Especially on social media.
Internet Safety Month is a fine time to pause and reflect on your climate. A good place to start is with basic etiquette. Verywell Family put together an article on internet etiquette for kids, yet when you give it a close read you’ll see that it provides good advice for everyone. In summary, their advice focuses on five key points:
- Treat others how you want to be treated – this is the “Golden Rule,” which applies online just as it does in every other aspect of our lives.
- Keep messages and posts positive and truthful – steering clear of rudeness, hurtful sarcasm, and rumor-mongering is the way to go here.
- Double-check messages before hitting send – ask yourself if what you’ve written can be misinterpreted, especially when people can’t see your facial expression or hear tone of voice.
- Don’t violate a friend’s confidence – think about that picture or post … will it embarrass someone you know or share something not meant to be shared?
- Avoid digital drama – learn when to respectfully exit a conversation that’s getting mean, rude, or otherwise hurtful.
Of course, the flip side to all of this is what to do when someone targets you with their bad behavior—such as an online troll who hurls hurtful or malicious comments your way. That’s a topic in of itself. Check out our article on internet trolls and how to handle them. Once again, the advice there is great for everyone in the family.
Being safer … take it in steps
We’ve shared quite a bit of information in this article and loaded it up with plenty of helpful links too. Don’t feel like you have to address everything at once in one sitting. See what you have in place and make notes about where you’d like to make improvements. Then, start working down the list. A few minutes each week dedicated to your security can greatly increase your security, safety, and savvy.