Online Safety Tips

The vast majority of us use the internet to socialize, work, learn, and play. But widespread use doesn’t necessarily mean widespread understanding. The good news is there are easy ways to keep your internet use safe and constructive. We’ve compiled some of our best advice here.

Interacting with old and new friends

  • Be kind online. It’s OK to disagree, but don’t be disagreeable.
  • If you get together with someone you first met online, have the first meeting in a public place.
  • Know how to report abuse or block anyone who bothers you and others on social media.
  • Be weary of anyone who says you or a family member owes them money, unless you are sure they are legitimate.
  • Be very cautious before sharing intimate photos with anyone, even someone you trust. A friend can become an ex-friend and once an image is online, it may be impossible to have it removed. For more, see our advice on sexting, sextortion and revenge porn.
  • Be cautious about sarcasm and humor. Something that may be funny in person, could be misinterpreted online

Security and passwords

  • Use strong and unique passwords
  • Don’t automatically click on links in emails. They can be fake and lead you to malicious sites. Type in the web address yourself. When in doubt call the bank or other company that sent you the email.
  • Make sure your phone is locked. Secure your smartphone with a PIN (minimum 4 digit number), password, fingerprint or other method.
  • Don’t respond to anyone who tells you your computer is infected with a virus even if they claim they’re with Microsoft, Apple or your internet provider.

Shopping, banking, donating and contests

  • If it sounds too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. You can’t win a contest you didn’t enter and there are no Nigerian princes willing to send you money.
  • Only shop at reputable online merchants. When in doubt, ask around.
  • Never send cash or wire money, Use credit cards if possible, otherwise debit cards or legitimate payment services like Paypal.
  • When shopping or banking look for secure sites where the web address starts with HTTPS. The “s” stands for “secure.
  • Do some research before donating online to make sure the charity is legitimate and that the money is going to the right place.
  • Never give out your social security number, medicare number or any other identification unless you’re sure it’s necessary, such as applying for credit.

Using apps and unknown websites

  • Read reviews before downloading smartphone apps.
  • Pay attention to what permission smartphone apps ask for before you download or use them.
  • Know and use the privacy settings for any device, app or service you use.
  • Don’t provide any personal information on a website unless you are certain it’s legitimate and, even then, only if necessary.

Social media safety tips

  • Learn to use each service or app’s privacy settings.
  • Don’t let friends or strangers pressure you to be someone you aren’t. And know your limits. You may be internet savvy, but people and relationships change, and unexpected stuff can happen on the internet.
  • Be nice online and treat people the way you’d want to be treated. People who are nasty and aggressive online are at greater risk of being bullied or harassed themselves. If someone’s mean to you, try not to react, definitely don’t retaliate. Use privacy tools to block anyone who is being mean
  • Think about what you post. Sharing provocative photos or intimate details online, even in private emails, can cause you problems later on. Even people you consider friends can use this info against you, especially if they become ex-friends. And even if they remain good friends, they can be hacked, their device can be stolen or they could accidentally forward what you sent them.
  • Read between the “lines.” It may be fun to check out new people for friendship or romance, but be aware that, while some people are nice, others act nice because they’re trying to get something. Flattering or supportive messages may be more about manipulation than friendship or romance.
  • Avoid in-person meetings. The only way someone can physically harm you is if you’re both in the same location, so – to be 100% safe – don’t meet them in person. If you really must get together with someone you “met” online, don’t go alone. Have the meeting in a public place, tell a parent or some other solid backup, and bring some friends along.

Media literacy and fake news

  • Be aware that not everything you read online is necessarily true
  • Consider the source and if you have any doubt, so a little online research to see if it’s likely true
  • Never share anything that you have any reason to doubt. It’s not only bad to share inaccurate information, but it also hurts your credibility
  • Be aware of your emotional response to media. Just because something seems horrible, confirms your bias or makes you feel “right,” doesn’t make it true.

Cyberbullying: Tips for kids and teens

  • Know that it’s not your fault. What people call “bullying” is sometimes an argument between two people. But if someone is repeatedly cruel to you, that’s bullying and you mustn’t blame yourself. No one deserves to be treated cruelly.
  • Don’t respond or retaliate. Sometimes a reaction is exactly what aggressors are looking for because they think it gives them power over you, and you don’t want to empower a bully. As for retaliating, getting back at a bully turns you into one – and can turn one mean act into a chain reaction. If you can, remove yourself from the situation. If you can’t, sometimes humor disarms or distracts a person from bullying.
  • Save the evidence. The only good news about bullying online or on phones is that it can usually be captured, saved, and shown to someone who can help. You can save that evidence in case things escalate.
  • Tell the person to stop. This is completely up to you – don’t do it if you don’t feel totally comfortable doing it, because you need to make your position completely clear that you will not stand for this treatment any more. You may need to practice beforehand with someone you trust, like a parent or good friend.
  • Reach out for help – especially if the behavior’s really getting to you. You deserve backup. See if there’s someone who can listen, help you process what’s going on and work through it – a friend, relative or maybe an adult you trust.
  • Use available tech tools. Most social media apps and services allow you to block the person. Whether the harassment’s in an app, texting, comments or tagged photos, do yourself a favor and block the person. You can also report the problem to the service. That probably won’t end it, but you don’t need the harassment in your face, and you’ll be less tempted to respond. If you’re getting threats of physical harm, you should call your local police (with a parent or guardian’s help) and consider reporting it to school authorities.
  • Protect your accounts. Don’t share your passwords with anyone – even your closest friends, who may not be close forever – and password-protect your phone so no one can use it to impersonate you. 
  • If someone you know is being bullied, take action. Just standing by can empower an aggressor and does nothing to help. The best thing you can do is try to stop the bullying by taking a stand against it. If you can’t stop it, support the person being bullied. If the person’s a friend, you can listen and see how to help. Consider together whether you should report the bullying. If you’re not already friends, even a kind word can help reduce the pain. At the very least, help by not passing along a mean message and not giving positive attention to the person doing the bullying

Smartphone use

  • Phones are personal. Letting other people use your phone when you’re not around is like letting them have the password to your social network profile. They can impersonate you, which gives them the power to mess with your reputation and relationships. Lock your phone when you’re not using it, and use strong and unique passwords for all your apps.
  • Watch your photos to make sure that they are appropriate. Think about how you and others are dressed and be aware of how anything in the background could embarrass you or give away your privacy. Know how to turn off location sharing on photos and respect other people’s privacy by not posting pictures of them without their permission.
  • The value of presence. If you do a lot of texting, consider the impact that being “elsewhere” might be having on the people around you. Your presence during meals, at parties, in the car, etc. is not only polite, it’s a sign of respect and appreciated.
  • Know what your apps know. Pay attention to any permissions apps request as you install them. If an app asks to access your location, contact list, calendar or messages or to post to your social networking services, consider if the app really needs that information to function. When in doubt, consider withholding permission or not using that app.
  • Down time is good. Constant texting and talking can affect sleep, concentration, school, and other things that deserve your thought and focus. You need your sleep, and real friends understand there are times you just need to turn off the phone.
  • Share location mindfully. A growing number of apps allow friends to pinpoint each other’s physical location. If you use such a service, do so only with friends you know in person, and get to know the service’s privacy features.
  • Have a conversation (not a lecture) with your kids about smartphone use. Consider drawing up a family cellphone contract and talk with your children about why each point is important (there’s a sample contract at ConnectSafely.org/mobile). If you decide to use parental-control apps, discuss them with your children.
  • Consider parental-control tools. There are actually two major types of parental controls. The first is family rules or guidelines that you establish with your children, and the second is technology tools provided by cellphone companies, smartphone makers and app developers. If you do use technology to monitor or limit your child’s phone activities, in most cases it’s a good idea to be up front with them and revisit it every now and then as they mature.D\
  • Don’t text or handle your phone while driving. Texting or even touching your phone while driving is dangerous and illegal in many states.  If you must speak on the phone, use a speaker or headset and hands-free controls. Never text, send or read email or post online and if you use your phone for navigation or listening to music or podcasts,  set it before you leave or use hands-free voice recognition.

Top 10 Internet Safety Rules & What Not to Do Online

1. Keep Personal Information Professional and Limited

 

Potential employers or customers don’t need to know your personal relationship status or your home address. They do need to know about your expertise and professional background, and how to get in touch with you. You wouldn’t hand purely personal information out to strangers individually—don’t hand it out to millions of people online.

2. Keep Your Privacy Settings On

Marketers love to know all about you, and so do hackers. Both can learn a lot from your browsing and social media usage. But you can take charge of your information. As noted by Lifehacker, both web browsers and mobile operating systems have settings available to protect your privacy online. Major websites like Facebook also have privacy-enhancing settings available. These settings are sometimes (deliberately) hard to find because companies want your personal information for its marketing value. Make sure you have enabled these privacy safeguards, and keep them enabled.

3. Practice Safe Browsing

ou wouldn’t choose to walk through a dangerous neighborhood—don’t visit dangerous neighborhoods online. Cybercriminals use lurid content as bait. They know people are sometimes tempted by dubious content and may let their guard down when searching for it. The Internet’s demimonde is filled with hard-to-see pitfalls, where one careless click could expose personal data or infect your device with malware. By resisting the urge, you don’t even give the hackers a chance.

4. Make Sure Your Internet Connection is Secure. Use a Secure VPN Connection

When you go online in a public place, for example by using a public Wi-Fi connection, PCMag notes you have no direct control over its security. Corporate cybersecurity experts worry about “endpoints”—the places where a private network connects to the outside world. Your vulnerable endpoint is your local Internet connection. Make sure your device is secure, and when in doubt, wait for a better time (i.e., until you’re able to connect to a secure Wi-Fi network) before providing information such as your bank account number.

To further improve your Internet browsing safety, use secure VPN connection (virtual private network). VPN enables you to have a secure connection between your device and an Internet server that no one can monitor or access the data that you’re exchanging. Read more about What is VPN

5. Be Careful What You Download

A top goal of cybercriminals is to trick you into downloading malware—programs or apps that carry malware or try to steal information. This malware can be disguised as an app: anything from a popular game to something that checks traffic or the weather. As PCWorld advises, don’t download apps that look suspicious or come from a site you don’t trust.

6. Choose Strong Passwords

Passwords are one of the biggest weak spots in the whole Internet security structure, but there’s currently no way around them. And the problem with passwords is that people tend to choose easy ones to remember (such as “password” and “123456”), which are also easy for cyber thieves to guess. Select strong passwords that are harder for cybercriminals to demystify. Password manager software can help you to manage multiple passwords so that you don’t forget them. A strong password is one that is unique and complex—at least 15 characters long, mixing letters, numbers and special characters.

7. Make Online Purchases From Secure Sites

Any time you make a purchase online, you need to provide credit card or bank account information—just what cybercriminals are most eager to get their hands on. Only supply this information to sites that provide secure, encrypted connections. As Boston University notes, you can identify secure sites by looking for an address that starts with https: (the S stands for secure) rather than simply http: They may also be marked by a padlock icon next to the address bar.

8. Be Careful What You Post

The Internet does not have a delete key, as that young candidate in New Hampshire found out. Any comment or image you post online may stay online forever because removing the original (say, from Twitter) does not remove any copies that other people made. There is no way for you to “take back” a remark you wish you hadn’t made, or get rid of that embarrassing selfie you took at a party. Don’t put anything online that you wouldn’t want your mom or a prospective employer to see.

9. Be Careful Who You Meet Online

People you meet online are not always who they claim to be. Indeed, they may not even be real. As InfoWorld reports, fake social media profiles are a popular way for hackers to cozy up to unwary Web users and pick their cyber pockets. Be as cautious and sensible in your online social life as you are in your in-person social life.

10. Keep Your Antivirus Program Up To Date

Internet security software cannot protect against every threat, but it will detect and remove most malware—though you should make sure it’s to date. Be sure to stay current with your operating system’s updates and updates to applications you use. They provide a vital layer of security.

Keep these 10 basic Internet safety rules in mind and you’ll avoid many of the nasty surprises that lurk online for the careless.

Internet Safety Cheat Sheet