How do you stay safe online – tips from a cyber security expert

Phishing. Identity theft. Ransomware. Malware. Online threats are prevalent, insidious, and always evolving. From protecting personal information to warding off cyber threats, understanding how to navigate the online world securely is essential. So, how do you stay safe online?

Maumita Bhattacharya, Charles Sturt cyber security expert

We asked Maumita Bhattacharya, Senior Lecturer in Information Technology at Charles Sturt University, who teaches cyber security, for some online safety tips and strategies.

Use strong passwords

“Beyond complexity, consider the uniqueness of your passwords across different accounts. Reusing passwords increases the risk of widespread compromise if one account is breached. Aim to generate distinct passwords for each online platform or service you use. A good password will combine letters, numbers and symbols. Additionally, periodically update passwords, especially after any security incidents. You may consider using a password manager. With a password manager, you only need to remember a single password, the password manager handles the rest.”

Practise safe browsing habits

“Most browsers have built-in browser security features such as popup blockers and script blockers to defend against intrusive advertisements and malicious scripts. Make sure these are turned on.

“In addition, you may consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt and conceal your online traffic, protecting your online activities from prying eyes. VPNs hide your IP address and shield your data from interception and surveillance; particularly useful when accessing public wi-fi networks or conducting sensitive transactions online.”

Keep software updated

“It’s in tech companies’ interest to have a reputation for safety, so they often release updates to fix or tighten any security features. In addition to system updates on your devices, also prioritise the patching of third-party software and plugins, which are common targets for cybercriminals seeking to exploit vulnerabilities.

“Furthermore, consider enabling automatic updates for mobile applications on your smartphones and tablets to mitigate security risks associated with outdated software. Mobile devices are increasingly targeted by malware and phishing attacks, making timely updates critical for maintaining the integrity of your digital assets and personal information.”

Secure personal information

Be mindful of the information you share on social media platforms, including details about your location, daily routines and personal preferences. Cybercriminals can leverage this information to craft targeted phishing emails or launch social engineering attacks aimed at manipulating your trust and eliciting sensitive data.

“Furthermore, consider adjusting privacy settings not only for your own account but also for posts and photos tagged by others. Review and approve tags before they appear on your profile, and exercise discretion when interacting with unfamiliar accounts or requests for personal information.”

Be sceptical of unsolicited emails

“Cyber criminals know that, often, the weakest link in someone’s digital security is the person themselves. Phishing is the tactic of trying to manipulate someone into performing an action that then compromises their online security. So, if you receive an unexpected email, text message, or phone call requesting personal information, financial details or login credentials, be cautious.

“Legitimate organisations don’t typically ask for sensitive information via unsolicited communications. Consequently, if you receive a communication purportedly from a company or organisation, use official channels to verify its authenticity. Contact the company directly through its official website or customer service number to confirm the request.

“Hover your mouse cursor over any links in emails to preview the URL before clicking. Be cautious of URLs or links that redirect to unfamiliar websites. If in doubt, don’t click. Phishing emails also often contain urgent or alarming messages designed to prompt immediate action. Be wary of emails threatening consequences for not complying with requests or offering unexpected rewards or prizes.”

Use multi-factor authentication

“Explore the various authentication methods available for multi-factor authentication (MFA), including time-based one-time passwords (TOTP), SMS codes, or authentication apps like Google Authenticator and Authy. Each method offers unique considerations in terms of usability, security and also convenience. Evaluate your preferences and device compatibility to select the most suitable MFA solution for your needs.

“Additionally, consider implementing biometric authentication methods, such as fingerprint or facial recognition, where supported by your devices and online accounts. Biometrics provide an additional layer of security. They require physical verification in conjunction with traditional authentication credentials. This further enhances the integrity of your digital identity.”

Educate yourself and others

Stay informed about emerging cybersecurity trends and best practices. Check out online forums, government advice, webinars and community events dedicated to digital security awareness. They will help answer the question: how do you stay safe online. Public libraries also sometimes run sessions to show community members how to stay safe online.

“Furthermore, if you have children, start conversations with them about online safety and privacy. Explain the dangers – and the protective strategies, they can use – and foster an open dialogue so they can come to you with any concerns.”

Help fight the cyber criminals

Digital display of computer code overlaid with the word 'crime"

So, how do you stay safe online? Well, in an interconnected digital landscape fraught with potential risks, safeguarding your online presence demands diligence, awareness and proactive measures.

It also needs dedicated professionals who develop and deploy digital tactics to prevent cybercrime. You can join them. Start your career in cyber security with our Bachelor of Information Technology1 – in which you can specialise in this growing, essential field – or upskill with a short online micro-credential in cyber security.

1Cricos: 012006F