How To Keep Your Family Safe Online

You lock the doors to your house and don’t leave the windows open when you’re not home. You don’t let strangers in, and you never give any of your personal information to callers you don’t know. You’ve got smoke detectors and maybe even security cameras and an alarm system. You belong to Neighborhood Watch and pay attention to the community’s postings on the Nextdoor app.

Good on you for being careful about your family’s security in real life.

But is your family’s virtual life unprotected?

Cybercrime can pose both physical and economic damage before you’re even aware of it. If you don’t have strong antivirus protection on all the electronic devices your family uses, you’ve left a big gap in everyone’s safety. Even beyond relying on security software, everyone from the adults to the littlest kids needs to know how to protect themselves from scammers and other cybercriminals when they’re using their phones, their laptops, and all their other electronic gadgets that connect to the Internet.

Here are the rules everyone in the family should follow:

Use Original Passwords

For the past five years in a row, the most common passwords people are still selecting are “123456” and, if you can believe it, the word “password” itself. Coming in next are “123456789” and “12345678.” Really? Like those wouldn’t be the first things even a rank amateur would try if he wanted to hack into someone’s banking or email account? (See the rest of the top 25 here. And don’t you dare use any of them.)

To be secure, a password should have a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special symbols and shouldn’t rely on words that are spelled the way they are in the dictionary. Security experts suggest starting with a phrase that you can remember, and then mixing it up with numbers and symbols here and there. 

Keep Personal Information Personal

People you don’t know can easily find out a great deal about you from what you post online on various sites. You may have mentioned your street address somewhere and your vacation plans someplace else, but it doesn’t take much digging for someone bent on criminal activity to put two and two together. Be careful about giving out detailed personal information even on presumably verified social media sites and networking sites like LinkedIn. It’s not pleasant to think that you have to keep your guard up all the time, but information you put out there lives forever on the Internet and if it’s not something you’d tell a stranger in person, then don’t tell it to the world online.

Don’t Fall Into Email Traps

The majority of computer viruses and other malware invasions are caused by downloading attachments or clicking on links that are sent by unknown sources or appear in pop-up windows or other unsolicited communications. Never download anything or activate a link you receive from anyone but a trusted source. And given how sophisticated and wide-ranging phishing has become, it’s wise to verify downloads and links wherever they’ve come from. Before acting on them, check the originating URL and “reply to” address for inconsistencies and irregular spellings, and if you’ve got any reason to suspect the legitimacy of the correspondence even from your bank, for example, contact the source directly to check it out.

Use Only Secure Wi-Fi

Free public Wi-Fi networks are convenient, but they can be easily intercepted. Unless you’re at home or know that you’re using a legitimate hotspot, avoid connecting to sites that store your credit card or banking information. Disable your smartphone’s default Wi-Fi access and use your phone’s network rather than public Wi-Fi.

Remember That Devices Aren’t Toys

Especially for the younger members of the family, remind them that although they’re able to play games on their devices, they are not toys. And just like in the real world, there are good people and bad people on the Internet. Any time they are connected, there is the possibility that bad people will try to interfere with what they’re doing and mess things up for them and sometimes for the whole family.

You know that you can’t protect your family from everything out there, but the better they are prepared for the cyber world, the safer they’ll be in it.