Despite internet connectivity and use being very much a central part of today’s society, people are still playing catch-up in the digital age on best practices in using online services.

There is a perception that the internet is a safe and private domain, with users willingly passing personal information, private data and payment card/bank details.

There needs to be a fundamental cultural shift in the perception of the internet, which sees it treated as a real world public environment– needless to say you wouldn’t walk round the street with your PIN written on a post-it-note stuck to your head.

When making online payments for example, users should consider whether they are familiar with and trust the brand, whether it’s recognised, whether the domain name is correct so they know it’s not a spoofed site, and whether a SSL/TLS certificate is presented and check which vendor supplied the certificate and to whom (does it look valid or dodgy). Putting this into a real-life scenario, you wouldn’t tell a stranger in the street your personal data.

With form data or payment services users should look out for standards that help increase the assurance of payments, for example Feefo approved services such as Worldpay. Beyond this, even if a transaction is legitimate, users have to question whether the trader will look after personal data or be subject to an easy breach.

People should be thinking about the means when sharing sensitive data. For example, information shared via email and instant messaging services can be intercepted or accidentally forwarded by the recipient. Email can also lead to people falling victim to masquerading (spoofing) and phishing attacks – internet users must be suspicious of the actual source of all emails, as delicate tweaks to emails can allow a criminal to easily pose as a bank or close relative.

Meanwhile social media is such a regular tool of interaction that many people get complacent and lose sight of all the information they are sharing, which is as risky as shouting your home address and front-door key hiding place in a busy pub.

As systems for stealing personal data get more and more sophisticated, it is vital that our entire approach to the internet also matures, and the techniques to do so are remarkably simple by considering general safe-guarding practices we all follow in public life.

How much privacy should we sacrifice?

Private data has become a form of currency in the digital age to access many different environments.

Examples are with social media sites and search engines, which all demand that you sacrifice various bits of information to fully leverage its services.

This happens to be the nature of much of today’s common internet use, the only advice that can be given to users is to constantly think before you click.

The questions that need to be constantly running through the mind are ‘why am I sharing this information?’, ‘what is the trade-off?’ and ‘is it worth it?’

Are there simple steps everyone should take?

When browsing the internet there are some simple things that should be considered.

The first is whether your computer or mobile devices have had the latest software updates, as these are always critical for identifying and fixing security flaws, automating updates and checking automation is working effectively will really go a long way to protecting you.

When browsing the internet, seeing adverts for items you’ve previously looked at means you are providing data to advertisers via cookies; it’s a good idea to clear out the cookie cache periodically.

With most operating systems today allowing you to save passwords for quick, multi-device access, the importance of those passwords has grown once again and indeed for some services such as online banking, caching authentication credentials can be a huge risk especially on a mobile device which could be stolen or compromised with malware. With a Windows machine, make sure you are logged on as a Standard User on your home device and not an Admin User when undertaking general web-surfing; it’s easy enough to do this via the Control Panel then User’s option when you first buy a laptop for instance.

Just Keep Calm and Stay Safe!