Cyber safety tips

Nowadays we use cyberspace heavily for work and play. In the physical world a degree of common sense about personal security comes naturally. In cyberspace "common sense" is unintuitive, but without it bad things can (and do) happen.  Losing your wallet in the physical world is mainly inconvenient. But imagine what could happen if an untrustworthy stranger gains full access to everything you store and do using your phone. Just for starters, they could empty your bank account, delete your personal photographs, and extract embarrassing information from your social media activity. Worse, they can probably act as you in cyberspace for the foreseeable future.

It is wise to invest time acquiring cyberspace "common sense". Three guidelines go a long way:

  1. Keep personal information personal. In cyberspace you are identified through personal information such as passwords, PINs and account numbers. Anyone acquiring these becomes "you" in cyberspace. Keep passwords long and strong, and don't share them across different sites. Only reveal personal information to a site you trust, using a device you a trust, over a network you trust.
  2. Keep a clean machine. Your safety depends on the health of your devices. Be careful about websites you browse, links you click, networks you join, and apps you download. Install basic cyber hygiene tools such as ant-virus software and apply critical software updates.
  3. Manage your online presence. Everything you say and do in cyberspace is potentially accessible forever. Never forget this! Make sure you understand the security and privacy settings of your social media accounts. Think before you post. What is funny today might look foolish (or worse) tomorrow. Your friends may love to know you are on holiday – but so do thieves.

Cyberspace is a wonderful place to work and play in. Staying safe is all about treating cyberspace with the common sense caution you apply in the physical world.

There are plenty of resources to help you develop a notion of common sense in cyberspace. Places to start include:

Get Safe Online:

Get Cyber Safe:

Carnegie Cyber Academy (fun but worth a look):

Read our disclaimer.

Prof. Keith Martin

Prof. Keith Martin is from the Information Security Group at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has a particular expertise in cryptography and its applications within cyber security, and is author of the book Everyday Cryptography (Oxford University Press).