The internet can be a wonderful place. It has online shopping, streaming services, social sites to catch up with (or stalk) old friends and flames, memes and videos of cats that make you lol.

However, the internet can also be a scary and unkind place if you don’t know how to protect yourself while using it. We do a lot online these days and malicious or opportunistic internet users can take advantage of all your online activity, from logging into emails or bank accounts and purchasing goods or services to sending private information or pictures to others.

What’s even worse is that cyber attacks are criminal acts that can often go unnoticed. Common indicators include unknown charges to credit cards, emails or phone calls from friends indicating they received a suspicious message from you or peculiar behaviour by your computers.

Security evangelist and founder of Calamity Monitoring Daniel Lewkovitz says unlike what we see in movies or TV shows, attacks can be perpetrated by anyone. Cyber attacks come from young children and unskilled operators (known as “script kiddies” who have simply downloaded “off the shelf” attack software) right up to state-level agencies who engage in cyber-warfare and attempt to cause harm to a nation’s defence or strategic interests.

Here are five easy steps to stay protected:

BE MORE AWARE

No, that Nigerian prince doesn’t really want to give you $250,000 in exchange for a short-term loan or your bank account details. Be aware, be suspicious and be careful not to fall for initial traps that can give hackers or cyber attackers access to your information. It’s not always in the form of a dodgy email either; other “phishing” scams can include pop-ups and instant messaging or unsecure smart phone apps.

Image: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Giphy

HAVE COMPLICATED PASSWORDS

Avoid the temptation to use a generic password with 123 or your favourite number after it, as criminals can crack these passwords with ease. There are many guides that make a strong password, such as using a mixture of capital letters, numbers and punctuation marks. But who’s going to remember a password like M34#!DzL7$? (No one.) And writing it down can lead to even more security problems.

Security expert Lewkovitz says there is now research to suggest a long, memorable phrase such as “I went to the park the other day” is actually a cryptographically secure password which would be difficult for computers to randomly guess. But keep in mind using the same password for everything is also a major no-no!

BACK UP YOUR INFORMATION

This is not only because systems can fail under ordinary use but also because it allows you to “roll back” to before an attack compromised your information. Yep, computers can travel back in time and continue working as though the virus never attacked.

Image: Giphy

KEEP YOUR SOFTWARE UPDATED

Stop clicking “remind me later” when your computer prompts you to update your operating system. We all do it but IT MUST STOP. Also, consider installing legitimate anti-virus or anti-malware software to prevent attacks or intrusions.

DON’T FORGET PHYSICAL SECURITY

There’s no point having the most encrypted computer in the world if someone can literally walk in and steal it. It’s generally accepted that once a person has physical access to computer hardware, it’s game over. Protect your home and business with basic security (doors and locks) as well as electronic security such as a monitored alarm system and cameras. Thankfully, these kinds of things have come down significantly in price over the last few years.

Image: Zoolander, Giphy

Image: Zoolander, Giphy

What happens if you’re under attack?

Mr Lewkovitz says once your identity has been compromised it can sometimes be difficult to get large corporations to talk to you. Mostly because they may not think you are who you say you are. Police CAN help, but many front-line police officers may not be aware of high-tech crime resources available to them. Remember to notify your bank immediately; they can freeze accounts and investigate fraudulent charges if made aware.

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