Protecting yourself and your device online

There is a lot of mistrust and fear about the internet. Some see it as the old wild west with no law and crooks behind every website. Yes, there are risks with the internet. You don’t know, always, where it is based and therefore tracking down the owner could be an issue, but not everyone is a criminal, and my guess is that there are as many crooks hiding behind a website address as you would meet physically.

There isn’t a guaranteed way to ensure you are never going to be caught out, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk.

As a rule of thumb – IF IT LOOKS TO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT PROBABLY IS TO GOOD TO BE TRUE.

So what steps should you take to protect your device, and wallet?

Devices

Operating System Updates

You should always keep your devices operating system up to date. Updates bring enhancements and new security features.

Desktops and laptops will prompt you to update, whilst mobile devices (phones and tablets) are a little more subtle.

On Google android devices, you go into settings (has an icon like a cog wheel), select system and you will find the update option there, sometimes under advanced. Alternatively when you open settings, there is a search box at the top – Just type update and tap return.

On Apple iOS, go again to settings, general and system updates.

On Kindle Fire devices, go again into settings then device options, then system updates

Application updates

In the same way for operating systems, updates bring enhancements and new security features to protect you. As for desktops and laptops, when you open an application it will usually prompt you if an update is available.

To find out if there is an update for an application (more commonly known know as apps) on a mobile device, it is usually quicker if you take steps to see if one is available (occasionally an app may prompt, you but this is rare).

On Google Android, scroll through you applications till you find the Google Play Store. Open it and at the top left, you will see three horizontal lines (known as a hamburger), tap on this ans select my apps and games. If an update is available details will appear, you can install them individually or tap the button that says install all.

On older Apple iOS devices, open the app store app and at the bottom you will see an update button. Tap on this and you should see a list of all apps that are awaiting an update – Either tap update all, or update individually.

On Apple devices running iOS 13, which at the time of writing is the latest version, open the app store app, and at the top right you should see a silhouette of a head and shoulders. Tap on the silhouette and when the next page opens do a page refresh (put the pad of a finger towards the top centre of the page and gently drag your finger down a inch or so, and release. Then drag the page down and you will see a list of apps waiting an update. As before select update all, or just do them individually.

On Amazon Kindle Fire devices, the update of apps is normally done automaticallyn usually when the device is turned on and not in use.

Anti-Virus

Antivirus software is a program or set of programs that are designed to prevent, search for, detect, and remove software viruses, and other malicious software. Additionally such software can also warn you about malicious websites, adware (adware is software that generates revenue for its developer by automatically generating excessive advertisements), detect if your email address and passwords have been stolen from a website hack (if you do get a warning about this, you should change your password for that site immediately).

Some antivirus packages include a firewall (a technological barrier designed to prevent unauthorized or unwanted communications between computer networks or hosts), most desktop computers and laptops usually have one built in and you may wish to contact one of the support forums I suggested on my support communities page as to which one is better for you.

Antivirus software come in two forms, free and paid for. With paid for versions you generally get more features and more enhanced support from the supplying company.

Deciding which package to use is difficult, as they all make claims that their package is the best. Websites such as https://www.techradar.com/uk regularly run comparisons and can help you make a decision.

There is quite a debate as to whether you need an antivirus package on Apple products, be that a computer, tablet or phone. It’s true that Apple has made their devices very secure and so the risk isn’t as great as it is on Microsoft and Google android devices, but it’s not impossible. If you were directed by a malicious website to enter you device login information, you are giving the malware virtually full access to you device. A antivirus programme may well warn you about the risk.

My advice is to install an antivirus package on all of your devices – You don’t neccesarily need a paid for package, but you should have some protection.

Backups

Another way to protect the information on your device is to do regular backups of the information on it, in case the worst happens – You don’t want to lose important files.

A backup is a copy of key information on your device, it’s essential that backups are stored on a separate drive to the one they were originally stored on.

Many operating systems come with some form of backup pre-installed. Windows devices have OneDrive and File History, Apple desktop devices have Time Machine, and tablets and phones have iCloud. Photos placed in the Photos app on android are automatically and, on some devices, other files can be backed up. In most cases the pre-installed backup application isn’t always setup and it needs to be configured before it will work. Each device manufacturer has a support team that can provide easy to understand documentation to help you with this.

The free storage provided may not be sufficient for your needs and so you may wish to pay for extra storage. With desktops and laptops, you can purchase reasonably priced external USB drives (currently around £60 for a reliable one – May 2020). Avoid ridiculously cheap drives, and secondhand ones as cheap ones don’t always have the best parts, and second hand drives may be near the end of their shelf life (approximately three to five years presuming no physical damage, such as dropping).

If you decide that, on your desktop or laptop, the pre-installed backup doesn’t meet your needs, there are third party packages available. Again, the Techradar site does reviews on the good ones – Usually one of the free ones will meet your needs.

Be Wary online

As previously mentioned, there are a number of steps you can take to keep you safe online. There is no guarantee that you will never be caught out, but you can reduce the chances of it happening.

When you navigate to a web page, have a look at the address bar. In this bar you will see the address of the site you have navigated to, e.g., www.bbc.co.uk (this is known also as a URL). To the left of the address, you should see an icon of a locked padlock. This signifies the page is secure, on some sites the padlock is highlighted in green.

If the padlock is highlighted red, or has a line through it, then this would suggest that there is an issue with the websites security and it might be better to not use the page, and certainly not enter any personal or financial information on it.

Be aware that website addresses can be spoofed (falsified), and whilst it might say Barclays Bank, it could take you to a copy site. There is a way, not foolproof, to check web addresses and that is to hover the cursor over the address bar and if the address is false, the correct one should show up. This trick will also work on website links in emails and also if you hover the cursor over the address the email has come from, this will also show up.

On mobile devices if you long press on a web address or email address you should get the same results.

On the subject of emails, always be wary of clicking on links and opening attachments, especially unsolicited ones – That email from Apple saying your account has been frozen or thanking you for your purchase may well be false. Unless you know and trust the sender, instead of clicking on any link just use a browser and use a pre-saved shortcut or use a search engine, such as Google or Bing to find the information.

Ways to spot a suspicious email are first to look at the subject line. If it contains any of the following then be careful – Request, Follow up, Urgent/important, Are you available? \Are you at your desk? Payment status, Hello, Purchase, Invoice Due, Re: Direct deposit, Expenses or Payroll. There may be others, but this should get you thinking for starters.

Moving onto the body of the email – it’s not normal for a legitimate company to request sensitive information by email. Occasionally it may happen but be wary. Legitimate companies call you by name (Good Morning Tom), Dear valued Customer isn’t normal. Legitimate companies use domain names – apple.com is a domain, apple.com@gmail.com is not one I recommend going anywhere near. Legitimate companies know how to spell and usually use good grammar. Legitimate companies don’t send unsolicited attachments. They may send you a bill, but as a customer you would expect that.