While watching the Discovery Channel, you’ll encounter many documentaries on protecting yourself from a shark or a grizzly bear. This is an encounter that the majority of us will never get to experience. However, you’ll seldom ever encounter a guide on how to keep yourself safe from a phishing email (four of which you probably received in the last few hours).

Sure, cybersecurity is too broad to cover in a single post. Some people spent the best part of the last few decades studying it and have barely scratched the surface. However, today, we don’t intend to cover it all. Instead, here are the four basic things you should learn in order to be safer online.

1.   Use antivirus tools on all your devices

Using antivirus software is incredibly important, but one thing that many people get wrong is the idea that they need an antivirus just for their computers. You need antivirus on every device you use, and here are three compelling reasons why.

  • Remove malware: Malware is everywhere, and with the proper antivirus, you can detect and eradicate malware from your system. All you need to do is initiate a scan, but most of the time, this process is fully automated. This means that you’ll receive active anti-malware protection.
  • Passive protection: In the past, when the internet and computers were a lot slower, the extra resources that antivirus programs drew were quite substantive. This is why some people just take the risk and go without antivirus. Today, it will work in the background without you even noticing. So, it’s passive protection, and there are barely any downsides.
  • Data safety: Just think about someone stealing the information from your computer in the late 90s or early 2000s. What did you even have on your phone or PC? At best, some contacts and a few personal photos. Today, it’s all your financial information and correspondence. Today, that same breach would spell a disaster.

Your phone is probably the device that you use for shopping and internet browsing, so assuming that it doesn’t need protection is a bit naive.

2.   Be more careful with  passwords

Nothing can protect you from a weak password. If your password is easy to guess or crack, your online presence will be compromised. Worse yet, some people ignore the common-sense tip that they shouldn’t use the same password for everything. You can imagine how this goes. Here’s what you should do.

  • Avoid using passwords that make sense: Passwords that contain the name of your pet, the birthday of a loved one, or the street you lived on as a child are easy to remember, but they’re also easy to figure out. Also, information like this is more public than you think, so even people you don’t know can guess it.
  • Start using a tool: Using management systems for passwords will make executing a strong password policy as easy as possible. First of all, it will become effortless to make a strong, random password. Second, you won’t have to worry about forgetting a password. Lastly, changing the password every 90 or so days will become as simple as a single mouse click.
  • Don’t rely on sites to hold your hand: Some sites don’t allow you to register with a password that they see as too weak. So, they might insist that you add one uppercase letter, one number, and a symbol to randomize a password. So, is “P@ssword1” a good password? Why not? It has all that the site has asked you for.

Taking care of your online presence and cybersecurity is your responsibility. If you do not take this seriously, then no guide, platform, or tool will be able to help you.

3.   Learn how to recognize phishing

Phishing is one of the biggest threats in the online world. The scam is simple – you get an email or a link from a source that appears to be credible. If you click, even the site might be credible. However, following this thread will spell doom for your online security. Here are some tips to recognize it.

  • Read carefully: Many phishing attempts rely on similarity to an authentic site. People don’t usually read. The concept known as typoglycemia ensures that your brain recognizes the word when the first and the last letter are stable, but the middle letters are scrambled. This is why you will read Fabecook as Facebook unless you take a second to read carefully. This is what phishers are relying on.
  • Check the sender’s identity: Carefully read the sender’s email address. You see, people are often not who they say they are. This is why in the MMORPG sensation WoW, one of the loading screens warned players that the Blizzard (the company behind the game) employee will never ask for their password. We can just imagine what incident caused such a disclaimer.
  • Verify hyperlink: Sometimes, all you have to do is hover your mouse over the hyperlink to see if the displayed URL matches the official website’s address. This may only take a few seconds, but it can save you from an embarrassing mistake.

For someone who spends so much time online, learning how to recognize phishing is as essential as it was for a hunter-gatherer to recognize a poisonous wild berry. Simply put, it’s a survival skill.

4.   Use a VPN

Another thing you should try is using a VPN. You see, it’s not just about the fact that you can access geo-restricted content on your own devices (although this would have been a good enough reason on its own). The use of a VPN gives you so much in terms of cybersecurity.

  • Protecting your IP: The first major advantage of using a VPN is that it changes your IP and makes it invisible. Since your signal goes through several proxies, it becomes virtually untraceable. Now, keep in mind that by using your IP, one could find your physical address, which is what makes a VPN so essential for your overall protection.
  • Anonymity: Sometimes, you want to stay hidden from brands, not just from hackers. This is where a VPN can be of immense help. This can make user profiling impossible, which is a feature that many people would pay good money for online. Ironically, some people are willing to pay for a premium VPN just to restrict the ability of these brands to offer them an item they’re interested in.
  • Encryption: VPN encrypts your internet connection. To put it into simpler terms, it’s like in a spy movie where you can’t decrypt the message unless you have the right key. While the majority of platforms (like Viber) already have an encryption system of their own, it doesn’t hurt to get some extra protection.

Ultimately, there are so many free VPNs out there that you can use, but for an avid online user, paying for premium protection may be a good idea. Just remember that this is not the only use of a VPN, and that you get so much more in the package.

Learning how to stay online is an essential survival skill in 2023

The best part about our shortlist is that it applies to individual users and professionals alike. It will keep your social media and Steam accounts safe, but it will also keep your account on your project management platform at work much harder to crack. It’s hard to imagine a person out there who wouldn’t benefit from reading this list. It takes just a few tools and a bit of awareness to raise your online security drastically.