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How safe are you online?

By Rachel Lim

Published October 7, 2015

You can install the best security software on your computer, but once you open an infected email attachment or click on a malicious link, there’s still a great chance you’ve allowed someone else into your system. Here are six basic rules of thumb you should apply to stay safe.

Rachel Lim (UB Student, Class of 2015) was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She is proficient in speaking and writing three languages- English, Mandarin and Malay. Rachel is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in business administration with a focus in financial analysis and marketing.

1) Be cautious about what you post online

Anything you post on the Internet could remain there forever. Furthermore, it’s not difficult to trace content back to a particular person.

“Don’t put anything out there that you wouldn’t want someone like your grandmother, your boss, your sister or your parents to know or see,” said Dr. Catherine Ullman, Information Security Analyst at the UB Information Security Office. “Chances are if you would be uncomfortable with these people seeing your post, the material just shouldn’t be out there.”

The next time you’re about to put personal or sensitive information on social networking sites, blogs, emails or even text messages, be sure to stop and think twice before you actually post or send it.

2) Back up your data

Any time you’re actively working on a project, back-up your data onto an external hard drive at least every 20 minutes or so.

A quick and easy method to back up your data is to email a copy to yourself. An even safer method involves making multiple backups and storing them in different locations. As a result, if your computer got infected or the system crashed, you wouldn’t have to worry about your data getting destroyed.  

3) Be careful when you are using public Wi-Fi

Browsing the web using free public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop may seem to be a harmless activity. However, the information sent between your computer and the Web isn’t usually encrypted. That means your information can be potentially exposed to other people who are sharing the same network with you. In other words, because your data can be vulnerable, be sure not to make bank transactions, purchases, or check your private health information whenever you’re using a public network that is not encrypted.

4) Keep your operating system up-to-date

It doesn’t matter if you use Windows or Mac, IOS or Android, you should always keep your operating system up-to-date, either using the automatic features or manual updates. Be sure to also update all other software and applications on your computer. Keeping everything up-to-date helps to fix any possible security vulnerabilities and prevent them from being exploited. 

5) Never open email attachments if you are not expecting them

Email attachments are one of the most common ways for infections to spread. Hackers often disguise their identity in emails to trick you into thinking that they are official authorities. Avoid opening any email attachments unless you are absolutely sure you know the sender and you were expecting the attachment in question.

When in doubt, contact the sender and ask them about the file before you open it. Their account could be compromised and they may have no idea.  

6) Create strong passwords and change them periodically

This rule can’t be stressed enough. People often use the same password for several different accounts and don’t care to change it because it’s convenient and easy to remember.

“Passwords are like toothbrushes,” Catherine said, “You shouldn’t share them with anyone else, and be sure to change them every six months.”

She highly recommends replacing your passwords with a strong “passphrase” and switching them up periodically. A passphrase uses a combination of multiple words, upper and lower case letters, special characters, and numbers. Most importantly, it is typically longer than a standard password for added security.

By following these simple rules above and combining them with appropriate security software, you are well on you way to safer and more secure computing.