With the majority of the world now having access to the internet, the subject of online security has never been more important.
There's an inherent risk with almost anything you do online, including browsing the web, managing email and posting on social media.
However, most people will be concerned about any activity concerning their personal data online. This includes photos, documents and of course payment information. It's perhaps of no surprise that this is the main area that hackers and scammers target.
1. Use a password manager
It can be easy to slip into a bad habit with passwords, choosing the same one across all accounts for pure convenience.
However, the risks of this are well documented, with the most obvious being that hackers can get one password and then have access to dozens of your accounts.
While many browsers now provide options to suggest strong passwords and save them for you, we'd recommend using a dedicated password manager.
Our top pick is LastPass. It stores all of your usernames and passwords in one place, allowing you to access them with a single master password.
You can download it as a browser extension, so whenever you’re browsing the web it will auto-fill your details when you visit a website. It works on Chrome, Firefox and Opera, among other web browsers.
If handing over all your details to an app and storing them in one place worries you, then know that LastPass encrypts all your data in the cloud and even the staff cannot access it. It does mean you will also lose access to your passwords if you forget that master password, but since it's the only one you need to remember, it shouldn't be too difficult.
This will log you in, and give you access to your passwords for everything else – LastPass will even automatically generate passwords for your applications, long strings of numbers and letters that make them that much harder to break.
2. Enable two-step verification (2FA)
Lots of services including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon and others now encourage you to add a second layer of security called two-step verification or two-factor authentication.
What it means is that when you log in with your username and password as usual, you will be prompted to enter a second code which is typically sent to your phone. Only upon entering this code will you be granted access to your account. It's similar to the way that most online banking is done by requiring multiple security questions.
But unlike predetermined answers to questions, two-factor authentication uses randomly generated codes. This means that even if your password is compromised, your account still can’t be accessed since the person won't be able to get that second code.
3. Watch out for common scams
There are plenty of scams out there to look out for, the latest being which steals money from your PayPal through access to your Facebook account.
In almost all situations, the common advice you've heard before is a good guide: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
- Ignore emails that promise to deposit money in your bank account
- Don't open attachments unless you have up to date antivirus software installed (even if you trust the sender)
- Don't click on links in emails unless you are sure they are safe. If in doubt, type the website in manually and then log into any associated account
- Don't give out passwords, payment details or any other personal information to a cold caller
- Don't allow anyone to remotely connect to your computer or install any software on it
One really important thing to note is that companies will never ask you to give your full password on the phone or over email. It's always worth erring on the side of caution, and not going ahead with anything you're not entirely sure about.
Scammers are becoming more sophisticated and go as far as creating identical replicas of websites - especially banking sites - to fool you into entering your login details. Always check the website address at the top of your web browser to make sure you're on the genuine site and make sure it begins with https: (not just http:).
4. Use a VPN
A VPN (virtual private network) creates a barrier between your data and the wider internet. Using a VPN means that no one can see what you’re doing online, nor can they see or access any data you send to a website, such as login and payment details.
While VPNs were initially only commonplace in the business world, they have become increasingly popular for personal anonymity and privacy online. With news coming out that certain internet service providers (ISPs) are selling their users' browsing data, a VPN will ensure that no one knows what you’re doing or what you’re looking at.
5. Don't overshare on social media
When you post on Facebook, Twitter or any other social site, you should be aware of who can see what you're posting. Many of these sites offer no real privacy: anyone can see what you've written and the photos you've posted.
Facebook is a bit different, but you should check your privacy settings to find out who can see what you post. Ideally you should set it so only 'Friends' can see your stuff, not 'Friends of Friends' or - worse 'Everyone'.
Avoid announcing that you're off on holiday for a fortnight, or posting selfies by the pool. Save this info for when you get back so people aren't aware your house will be unoccupied.
We've got other security tips for holidaymakers, too.
6. Run antivirus software
One of the most important components of your security is antivirus software. Every PC you use should have up-to-date antivirus installed, as it is your first line of defence in protecting you against malicious software (otherwise known as malware) that attempts to infect your computer.
Malware can be attempting to do a number of different things including locking up your files in an attempt to get you to pay a ransom, to using the resources on your machine to mine cryptocurrency for someone else or to steal your financial details.
Following the steps above will go a long way to ensure you stay safe online. With safe passwords, a VPN set up and proper anti-virus protection – you are much, much less likely to have your identity stolen, your bank accounts emptied and your computer data compromised.