The average person spends about 8 hours a day sleeping. They could probably spend more than that on the internet, even if they don’t realize it. For example, if you’re using online applications, then you’re probably on the internet. This means that it’s essential that parents understand online safety – and that they teach it to their children. Here are some key tips.

Cybersecurity starts with your device

If you’re working from home as an employee, then it’s very likely that your employer will supply and manage your equipment. If, however, you’re running your own business or just using the internet personally, then you’ll probably be using your own device. In fact, these days, many people will access the internet from multiple devices.

There are two golden rules to remember. Firstly, always update your operating system/firmware and any software you use as soon as possible. Secondly, always use security software whenever you can. At present, this means your computers, tablets, and cell phones should all have their own security software.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of applying updates promptly, even when it’s a pain to do so. Updates often address recently-discovered security issues. The longer you put off applying them, the longer you remain a target for attacks. Be very clear about the fact that nobody is “too small” to be a target for cybercriminals.

Authentication is everything

At present, a lot of authentication is still based around the use of passwords. This means that you really do need a unique, strong password for every application you use. If you’re struggling to make this happen, there are two steps you can take. Firstly, reduce the number of accounts you use to a bare minimum. Secondly, consider using password-management software.

Whenever you have the option to increase security by adding extra layers of authentication, you should usually do so, again, even if it’s a pain. It’s increasingly common for devices to offer fingerprint recognition. High-security internet sites (e.g. banking sites) often allow you to have a one-time, short-validity code sent to your cell when you want to log in.

Always make sure you know who you’re dealing with. Be aware that there are ways to fake sender’s addresses in emails and caller ID on phones. Never login to any of your accounts from a link anyone sends you or call a number they give you. Go to the authentic website and either log in there or use the details given there.

A note on social media

This one is particularly important for parents. Lots of mainstream celebrities have social-media accounts and children often like to follow them. Unfortunately, fraudsters know this and frequently try to impersonate celebrities and/or popular brands like sports clubs.

The social media platforms use two strategies to deal with this. Firstly, they verify major accounts and signal the verification with a checkmark. Usually, it’s blue but this can vary. On YouTube, for example, it’s currently gray. Secondly, they search for (and receive reports of) fake accounts which they then delete.

In simple terms, any account which is actually linked to a major brand (like Atletico Madrid) or its representatives will almost certainly have a checkmark beside it. Genuine fan accounts will state that they are fan accounts in their bio. Any other account which references the brand is, at least potentially, a spam account and should probably be reported.

Make sure your internet connection is secure

WiFi may be convenient, but it isn’t necessarily as secure as wired connections. This means that you might want to consider sticking to wired connections if you’re doing anything particularly sensitive. Even if you’re on a wired connection, it’s advisable to use a VPN as well. You should absolutely use a VPN if you’re doing anything sensitive over WiFi.

VPN stands for Virtual Private Network and it basically creates a safe tunnel through the internet. In fact, using a VPN is sometimes known as “tunneling”. It not only increases your safety, it can also improve your network’s performance. You can use VPN software on tablets and cell phones as well as regular computers and it’s highly advisable to do so.

Outside of your home, either use your own mobile data or use a VPN to connect to public WiFi. These days you really must do one or the other if you want to make sure your personal data is safe.

Keep your screen out of sight

There’s no point in using all kinds of technical strategies to protect your data if someone can just look over your shoulder and read it from your screen. This may sound like stating the obvious but it can be surprisingly easy to forget, especially when you’re in a hurry. You just fire up your device to check something and don’t think about who is near you.

In practical terms, the best way to avoid this in your home is to have a dedicated workspace. Choose this with security in mind. For example, make sure that the screen is facing away from a window. Try to avoid looking at anything sensitive anywhere other than your workspace. Before you do, ask yourself if it can wait. If it really can’t then guard your screen as much as possible.

Assume you’re going to be hacked

This may seem like a downbeat note to end on, but it’s a simple reality. Nobody is too small to be a target, not even private individuals. If you run your own business then you are certainly a target. Using robust cybersecurity will help to minimize your chances of falling victim to an attack, but, realistically even the best security cannot provide a 100% guarantee of success.

This means that you need to think about what to do to protect your valuable data from an attack. Step one is to encrypt anything sensitive you keep on your local computer (including attached storage) and in the cloud. Step two is to make sure you have at least one offline backup of it. Offline means separate from both the internet and your computer.

Do this and a hacking attack will be just an inconvenience. The attackers will not be able to use your data and you will still have access to it.