Safer Internet Day: Why not up your game?

By Paul Ducklin

Usually, when Safer Internet Day comes around, the cybersecurity situation hasn’t changed much from the year before, so it doesn’t feel like much of a reason to do anything special.

But that’s not the case in 2021, thanks to the lifestyle changes that the coronavirus pandemic has brought around the world.

In the US, for example, the Wall Street Journal reported that internet usage increased 25% in just a few days in mid-March 2020.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Ofcom, the UK’s communication services regulator, reported that internet usage hit an all-time high in the year. By June 2020, Britons were, on average, spending more than a quarter of their waking hours online.

For most of us, the internet has been a godsend over the last year. It’s enabled us to continue working, studying, shopping, socialising and being entertained when we couldn’t do it in person.

At the same time, however, the crooks have regularly exploited the health-related fears and anxieties of all of us – as home users, employees and employers – to lure us into their criminal traps.

With all this in mind, why not take advantage of Safer Internet Day 2021 to check your online security practices and make sure you, your family and your friends are as safe as possible?

If you own a website, make sure it’s secure

For many small businesses in countries with strict lockdown, online sales are the only way to keep trade alive at all, due to “click-and-collect” regulations.

As a result, many small businesses have enabled online purchasing for the first time over the last year, with web developers reporting a rush to implement online payment mechanisms in the first months of the pandemic.

If your business has a website, even if it’s only a modest one, go back and review the security of the site and any payment collection services you work with or connect to.

If you can afford it, get a third-party to do the review so you get an independent opinion of what has been set up well, which parts could be improved, and which parts, if any, need urgent attention. (You can be sure that the crooks are regularly “testing” your server, even if you are not.)

If you are running a website via HTTP only, perhaps because the information you’re providing is public anyway and you don’t think it needs encrypting, please upgrade to HTTPS for the greater good of all.

Educate your friends and family

Lots of occasional web users have become heavy consumers almost overnight. Many people who previously just used the internet to read the news or check emails are now using it in multiple ways every day, including for meeting up for chats with groups of people they don’t know well, if at all.

Talk with your friends and family about good online security practices. Advise them on how to spot scams no matter how they arrive.

Cybercriminals are taking advantage of people being at home to make predatory phone calls; are abusing home deliveries to send scams via SMS; and are taking advantage of people trying to download health advice or set up vaccine appointments.

(The writer is the Principal Research Scientist at Sophos)

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