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Safe surfing

A few best practices will make the internet safer, says Cedric Mallia.

Go on the internet and you are at risk of viruses that delete your data, malware that steals money from your bank accounts, spyware that reads all the confidential stuff that you type, pop-ups, slow computers, SPAM, extortion, private pictures being stolen, hackings and fake news.

If you had to stop reading now you might be forgiven to think that I am picturing the internet as being this minefield pocked with bottomless wells in which digital, and real, monsters lurk ready to pounce on you at every click of the mouse. If you go online and start using the internet without taking some basic precautions it will turn out to be that you may after all be eaten by a digital monster.

The internet allows for easier communication, faster transactions, round-the-clock service availability and provision, and the ability to give you real-time access to the world. Yet these are anonymous communications. If you are talking face to face, or on the phone, you can try to gauge the trustworthiness of the person on the other side. It is not so easy to do such verifications when conducting online transactions.

There are various ways and methods that you can, and should, adopt to protect yourself as much as possible. Some of these are very easy, like not trusting everything you read, and always being careful when giving out personal information as this can be used against you, such as location information when you are not at home.

If you receive an unexpected e-mail do not just click on any links that it contains

Also, if you receive an unexpected e-mail do not just click on any links that it contains, or open any attachments, even if the sender is someone that you know well. You must be even more careful when receiving messages, including SMSs, from sources that you do not know. Infected e-mails are the primary source of viruses, and fake login pages are the most common way how someone tricks you into submitting your username and password with the intention of recording them and gaining access to your accounts.

Also, consider that the software that you are using may have unidentified shortcomings which are fixed with updates and patches. Therefore, do not use outdated or unpatched software, on your computer, mobile and tablets.

A good antivirus, on your computers and the smart devices, will help a lot too when used in conjunction with these best practices.

Special consideration should be given to online storage facilities, also known as cloud storage. You may trust your personal information, including photos and documents, with online sites. However there have been a few unfortunate examples of such services being exploited and the information stored thereon made available to criminals. This information can be used to blackmail or embarrass you.

Last but not least, while we understand that we need to take certain measures to protect ourselves, we need to be extra vigilant to protect our children. They may not always appreciate the risks of using online services as their experiences might be more limited.

Using the internet should be, and in general is, an experience which improves our lives, and with a few precautions we can keep it that way. Like in all aspects of life there may be a few pitfalls and shortcomings, but these can be kept under control and not be allowed to tarnish the advantages of being online.

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