Digital Safety & Privacy

Teen – Digital Life – Safety & Privacy

10 Online Safety Tips You Need to Know

Written by Christy Keating, J.D.

Most young people today have never experienced life without the internet. These days, digital technologies are used for everyday life activities like staying in touch with friends, doing schoolwork, and just having some fun. So in many ways you and your friends are more skilled than your caregiver(s) at navigating through and in the online world. Because you are so skilled and self-sufficient when using digital tech it’s important for you to be able to identify acceptable and unacceptable online content independently and know how to behave respectfully online and avoid online risks, just like in real-life. For example, if you were walking home from school and someone you didn’t know asked you to get in the car with them, you know that would NOT BE OK. In the same sense, you should not interact with those you don’t know online until you can make sure they are who they say they are. Many safety guidelines you use in real-life can be applied online as well.

Here are 10 simple online safety tips for when you are interacting with the online world.

#1 – Passwords

To prevent fraud (someone tricking/taking advantage of you for their gain), hacking (someone using your electronic devices and any information on them without your permission), and identity theft (someone using your identity, like your social security number or your name for their own benefit), passwords need to be strong (they should not be easily guessed and they should contain capitals and special characters), long, and unique. No online site or app that you use should have the same password as any other site. To make it easier to create and “remember” unique passwords, password tools like LastPass can be very helpful.

#2 – Security Questions

When answering or setting up security questions for an account, try not to use easily discoverable/publicly available information like your mother’s maiden name or the city in which you were born. The idea behind security questions is to help you access your account if needed, but also to keep it safe and secure from others who would use it for their own gain.

#3 – Password-Protect Devices

Because devices can store very sensitive information, like you or your caregiver’s personal information, passwords, banking information, and more, it is important that the phones/ipads and devices are locked with a unique code that only you and/or your caregiver(s) know.

#4 – Click Links with Caution

Be very cautious of any links you didn’t request or you don’t recognize that are sent by text, over email, or through social media from someone you don’t know; these are often a way to give the sender access to your device and/or your accounts. If these links say anything like promising that you’ve won something, be even more careful — remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Furthermore, if you mistakenly click on a link you should not have, definitely go ahead and change your password for that account (and any others that use the same password) immediately, just to be safe.

#5 – Be Wary of Online Questions & Quizzes

Hackers love to pose questions on social media platforms under the disguise of “fun.” What was your first dog’s name? Your birthday month? The place you were born? Your childhood best friend? All of these are common security questions used by banks and other organizations, and by answering them you may accidentally be revealing to them how to gain access to your accounts.

#6 – Purchase Only From Secure Sites

Never make a purchase or add your credit card or banking information on a website that is not secure. Secure sites will be designated with https:// (the “s” stands for secure), and will also likely have a lock symbol in the browser bar.

#7 – Use Privacy Settings

Go into your social media account settings and set your accounts to be “private” vs public. Although everything on the internet should be considered public and permanent, privacy settings are still important. Not only can they help protect your information from hackers, they also help you limit the number of people who see any content that you might post.

#8 – Choose Friends Carefully

Because not everyone on the internet is who they say they are, screening friend requests carefully is critical. Before you friend someone you don’t know online ask yourself the following questions: “Do I know and trust them in real-life? Do we have friends in common? Why do I want to be friends with this person?” If someone is not a friend in real-life, accepting a friend request merely to build your friends list/followers can be a risky decision. It’s important to know that on some social media platforms you can follow someone else, like a celebrity, without letting that person follow you back.

#9 – Use Secure Internet Connections and Anti-Virus Software

Be careful of using public wi-fi connections and make sure not to provide any private/personal information (banking, social security number, name, and address, etc.) while on a public network. Save those activities for when the network you are using is secure (safe), and better yet, protected by using a secure VPN connection. Additionally, make sure all antivirus programs you and your caregiver(s) are using are up to date. While they won’t protect against every threat, they will help detect and remove most malware (software used for dishonest means).

#10 – Log Off

Anytime a public device (e.g., school or library computer, a friend’s gaming system, or a classmate’s phone) is being used, you should make sure to log off all of your accounts and any sites that you visited when you are done. This is another way private information, thoughts, posts, etc. can be seen and used by people you don’t know and who don’t have your best interests in mind.

Bonus Tip!

Activate Safe Search on each device you use within Google. When it is turned on it will automatically pass over content that is extreme in nature when you do your searches. This can make it easier to find good, helpful information when doing a school report or even when you are just curious and trying to learn about something new.

Stay Safe & Set Your Settings!

No matter what you are doing online, it’s important to set and revisit your privacy settings on a regular basis. Below are links to find specific privacy setting instructions for some of today’s most popular social apps, cellphones, and games.

Social Media Resources