Staying Safe Online: The Basics

Blog post by Jeffrey Clark (Student Digital Champion)

Banner with Student Digital Champion

The perils of the Internet 

It’s no secret that the Internet is a part of our everyday lives. From work to social media, many of us find ourselves connected to the Internet in some form or another. Because it’s so commonplace it’s easy to use it in a relaxed and carefree fashion. So much so that it’s all too easy to forget that our interactions with the Internet can damage our safety both online and offline. As technology and internet usage advance at a rapid pace, the methods in which your safety can be compromised also become more sophisticated. This blog post will go over some ways that you can stay safe while you are online at home or at Aberystwyth University.

Your Digital Footprint

Using social media is a terrific way of connecting with your friends and family. However, it is also important to remember that social media plays a key role in shaping your digital footprint. Your digital footprint refers to activities on the internet that can identify you. There are two main forms of digital footprint, the first being your active footprint, which is identifying data that you deliberately leave online. Actions like uploading a selfie are posting something using your real name all contribute to your active digital footprint. It is important to remember that even if you delete a post you’ve made to social media, it’s never truly gone. One of the best ways to stay safe online is to avoid ‘oversharing.’ Think of it this way, would you tell a stranger your debit card number? Your address? Definitely not! An effective way to remember not to overshare is to ask yourself ‘would I be comfortable giving this information to a stranger?’

On the other hand, you have your active digital footprint, which is data that you unintentionally leave behind. The most common form of this data are cookies, which are small blocks of data that identify your browsing habits. These blocks of data allow for companies to place tailor-made ads on the websites that you visit. While this data is normally harmless, they can reveal private information about you if you share your computer with anyone. Many websites now ask if you want to enable cookies, it is recommended that you disable them if you are using a shared computer or broadcasting your browser contents to an audience (such as in a Microsoft Teams meeting or a livestream.)

Online Etiquette

The Internet is a public place, almost like a giant city. And like all cities, there are a wide variety of people living there. As such, it’s important to treat EVERYONE online with respect. Aberystwyth University has a zero-tolerance for abusive language and bullying both online and offline. If you or a colleague feel like you are being bullied, then please speak to a member of staff. Alternatively, we offer an online support form through our Report + Support tool. When communicating with anyone online, it is important to remember that there is always another person on the other side of your computer screen. Keep disagreements civil, avoid the use of offensive language, and respect the privacy rights of your peers. Before posting a photo of yourself with a group of mates, make sure you ask for everyone’s permission to upload it. Never upload a photo of someone else without their consent as it is damaging to that person’s privacy. In simple terms, when online, treat others how you wish to be treated.

Strong Passwords & Account Security

Image with username and password details.

For those of us who use the Internet daily it can be a hassle to keep track of passwords and usernames. It is tempting to make your password something simple, like ‘aberstudent22’, and use that password for all your online accounts. However, it is recommended that you do not use the same password twice. Many malicious hackers use ‘password crackers’ which are programs designed to successfully guess other people’s passwords and gain access to their account. These programs are becoming increasingly sophisticated, a password such as ‘password’ can be cracked in mere seconds. To secure your account, we recommend making your password something that ONLY YOU will know (such as the name of your cousin’s favourite food for example.) We further recommend that your passwords have at least one of the following items: one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one or more numbers, and one or more special characters such as ‘!’ or ‘*.’

When making a new account many websites will tell you if your password is strong or not, so make sure that your passwords meet the criteria. Another great form of account security is two-factor authentication. This method requires a user to have both their account password and to enter a code sent to another device (usually a mobile phone or an alternative email) to sign into their account. If for any reason you find your password has become compromised, then two-factor authentication will protect your account from unauthorized access. Most online retailers such as Amazon as well as Aberystwyth University’s network both have this feature enabled. Other forms of account security include Apple’s ‘Face ID’ feature which requires the user to scan their face before accessing a device. Other services such as Google offer their users the option to track account logins and login attempts, including where these actions took place and the name of the device used to login. Our advice to explore the account settings of your online accounts and pick the security options that best suit your needs.

Want to learn more?

This blog post goes over some of the many ways you can stay safe while browsing the internet. But there are many more methods of online safety that you can learn about. If you’re interested in learning more about staying safe online, please check out our LinkedIn Learning collection. Stay safe and secure!

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