Blog post by Jeffrey Clark (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 all too easy to forget that our interactions with the Internet can damage our safety both online and offline. 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.)
The Internet is a public place, 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
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 across multiple online accounts. Many malicious hackers use ‘password crackers’ which are programs designed to successfully guess other people’s passwords to gain access to their account. These programs are becoming increasingly sophisticated, a password called ‘password’ will be solved by the program 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.) When making an account for a separate website or application, make your password something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT to a previously used password.
It’s important not to use the same password twice because if someone gains access to your account with a password you’ve used for a different account then they will have access to that account as well. You might be thinking ‘how do I remember all of these passwords?’ With the number of online accounts that we use daily it’s almost impossible to remember unique passwords for ALL of them, nor do we expect you to. Instead, we recommend that you let a password manager handle the heavy lifting for you. These helpful applications securely store all your passwords and can autofill them for you next time you log in. Many browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox have password manager functions, but we recommend using dedicated password managers such as LastPass, BitWarden, 1Password, and RoboForm. Many of these password managers come with additional features to keep you and your accounts safe online. For example, BitWarden has a random password generator and a password strength tool which tells you how secure your password is before making it.
When creating a new password, we also recommend that your passwords have at least one of the following items in your password: one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one or more numbers, and one or more special characters such as ‘!’ or ‘*’ top make it even harder to guess. 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 to keep you safe. 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.
Have YOU been ‘pwned’?
If you’re reading this, then there may be a chance that one of your accounts has been compromised by a data breach. Data breaches occur when a website is hacked into, and hackers gain access to that website’s user data. Some of this data can include your password, real name, and even your bank details. It’s hard to tell if your account was compromised by a data breach as the account will usually operate normally afterwards Fortunately, there is a way to check. Haveibeenpwned.com is a free online service that checks if an email or phone number has fallen prey to a data breach. Simply type in the email address or phone number you wish to check on and the service will show you how many data breaches the account or phone number has been a part of a data breach and which website it came from. You can also opt-in to be notified if your account becomes compromised via a data breach by clicking ‘notify me’ on the ‘haveibeenpwned’ website. Do not panic if you find that your email has been part of a data breach as there is nothing that can be done to prevent them. However, you can minimize their impact by using unique passwords and by not sharing too much personal data on your accounts.
That’s a wrap!
This blog post goes over just a few aspects of staying safe online. There are tonnes of methods you can use to protect yourself while you’re online. If you want to learn more about staying safe online, please check out our LinkedIn Learning collection which goes over some more aspects of online safety and account security. Stay safe!