Basic Online Safety

The internet is an online space that provides many benefits and opportunities, particularly in the workplace. However, it is also a space that has become attractive to criminals, who use innovative ways to steal people’s personal data and money.

The fears of cybercrime may put people off using the internet but, with an awareness of how to protect yourself, you will feel much more confident.

There are key protections that you need to have on your computer. These are:

  • Firewall Software
  • Anti-Virus Software
  • Anti-Spyware Software

These are not infallible but they will provide you with protection from many online threats.

Criminals may also try to send you emails in the hope that you will hand over private data such as your bank details. This is known as phishing. You should therefore take a very cautious approach to emails and not accept them on face value.

If you have received an email from someone you don’t know, treat it with suspicion.

  • What is in the subject title? Does it sound legitimate?
  • Is it addressed to you personally?
  • Is there a plausible explanation as to why this person has contacted you?
  • Is it spam i.e. messages sent to large numbers of people to advertise products or services
  • Is the message asking you to divulge any personal information?

If any suspicion or doubt remains:

  • Do not click on any links or open any attachments in emails
  • NEVER give out personal information e.g. bank details, card information, passwords etc. via email. If the company is legitimate, it will never ask for you to provide such information.

Email scams are increasingly sophisticated. Some emails may look authentic even if they are not. They may use the branding of a legitimate organisation, such as a bank or tax agency, to trick you. In such cases, check the sender’s email address – does it look genuine? Has the name of a well-known retailer been slightly misspelt in the address? Are there any typos in the message? Is it written in ‘broken’ English?

Other people’s email accounts may be hacked or mimicked to make you think that you are being contacted by someone you know.

For example, a common example is when you receive a message purportedly from one of your contacts, stating that they have been robbed whilst on holiday abroad and have no money etc. They then ask you to loan them money to help them out. It is, of course, a trick but the fraudsters try to rely on your relationship with the person in order to steal your money.

Similarly, a request may even appear to be from your boss or a senior colleague, asking for confidential information or a transfer of funds etc. Such tactics play on the professional, hierarchical relationships between individuals and can seem convincing. Remember to report anything you find suspicious and speak to your boss or colleagues in person, rather than replying by email.  

Passwords are another consideration when working online. It is important that your password is strong.

However, as passwords need to be memorable, people often select very basic passwords. A very common password is simply ‘password’. Words such as these will not pose much difficulty to someone trying to access your account.

A strong password should consist of a combination of numbers and letters (including upper-case and lower-case characters). You may also wish to include other characters such as: ! “ £ $ % ^ & * ( ) < > + to make your password stronger and much harder to guess.

Ideally, a password should be at least 12 characters long.

Of course, the more complex the password, the harder it is to remember. Therefore, it is wise to make the password memorable in some way. Do not give your password to someone else.

You should also take a careful approach to buying things online.

  • Buy from retailers who have a good reputation – these could be well-known brands
  • Look for the ‘padlock’ symbol in the address bar – this shows you that the website is secure
  • Check the web address is prefixed with https:// - this denotes a secure site
  • Are there third-party reviews of the website/company?
  • Does it provide a company telephone number?
  • Don’t make illegal downloads

Your workplace will have its own systems and policies in place regarding IT and internet usage – it is important that you adhere to these.

About the author

Nathan joined RWA in 2016 on successfully completing his PhD. He previously worked in the private, public and charitable sectors. Nathan leads the content and professional standards team at RWA and is responsible for managing and curating technical content on the Aviva Development Zone and the award-winning My Development Zone e-learning platforms.

Since joining RWA, Nathan has written hundreds of business skills e-learning modules and assessments on a variety of subjects, including leadership and management, communication skills, human resources, employability, regeneration, citizenship and equalities.

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