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We’ve all heard the various horror stories about hacking, phishing and online security gone horribly wrong. Because they are told as “horror stories” we often tend to think of them as being an empty threat rather than something that could really happen. However, consider that recent statistics show that 80% of small businesses have encountered a breach of their online security whilst thousands of individuals have also done so, and suddenly the “empty” threat seems much more real.

Whenever you use the internet, in any capacity, security should be a major consideration. Not only do you owe it to yourself to ensure your own safety, but you have a responsibility to others. Businesses should consider their customers’ personal information and equipment, whilst individuals should consider their family, friends and other online contacts.

Common threats

Whether you’re online as an individual, a small business or as part of a much larger organisation, the main threats to online security remain the same.

Scams such as phishing pose a major threat. A phishing scam is one where a fake email or website is set up to mimic the appearance of a genuine site. The idea of this is to trap unwitting recipients into sharing details with them, so the email may appear as though it is from a bank or credit card company and is asking customers to confirm personal information such as account details or security numbers.

Spyware works to a similar result as phishing, but does so by way of a virus that monitors the users’ activity in order to gain personal information.

Words like “worm” and “Trojan” are also associated with the threat to online security. These are actually viruses that can enter your device and spread through it. A worm is one that burrows through and can then transfer to another device through your interactions, whilst a Trojan disguises itself as something else to get the user to download it.

Many of these viruses and scams are getting stronger and more resilient, so security has never been more important.

What to do

Luckily, there are many things you can do to protect yourself, your device and your contacts from the growing threat.

Firstly, there are anti-virus software and programs that can be installed to your device. No device should ever be left without a valid and appropriate anti-virus program. Finding one that is suitable for your PC, laptop, tablet or phone is often a case of comparing and researching. This is simply because no two are alike and will have different features and benefits, so it is important to find a program that works best for you and your needs. One that often comes up that is free is called AVG.

Once they have an appropriate program, many people think they need take no further precautions. However, with many scams relying on human interaction rather than the need to plant something such as a virus on your device, there is also a need to be cautious as a user.

It goes without saying at this stage that if you should accidentally find material that is illegal, such as child or animal abuse, you should report this immediately to the relevant authorities.

Much of online security is a case of common sense. Actions such as clicking on a link from an unknown source can often be the “entry” a worm or virus needs. Therefore, you should never click on a link from an unknown source, and when urged to click on a link it’s always best to ensure that the link is taking you to where you want to go. You can do this by hovering over the link and checking the bottom left hand of your screen where the URL / website address will flash up. This should appear to be a legitimate address, if it isn’t you are likely going to be taken to a phishing site.

Beyond this, you should always be extremely careful when sharing your personal information. Phishing scams prey upon those who innocently think they’re giving information to their bank or other institutions, and often use extremely seductive wording to urge them into doing so. Not only could your funds be accessed by doing this, but in addition your credit rating could be affected.

Password protection is a further important consideration when it comes to your security. Not only should you choose passwords carefully and use a blend of lower and upper case letters, numbers and symbols in order to ensure your password won’t be easily guessed, but it’s also wise to ensure that only you know your password, that you don’t share this and that you don’t write it down.