All is not lost, still there are ways to keep the internet safe and sound

Published on Feb 08, 2022 05:14 PM IST

We stay online for work, play, communication, shopping, gaming, banking, investments and much more. That means we leave a lot of precious data online

A total of 3.6 billion threats were blocked in the year globally, with an average of more than 9 million threats blocked every day on an average. (Archives/Shutterstock)
A total of 3.6 billion threats were blocked in the year globally, with an average of more than 9 million threats blocked every day on an average. (Archives/Shutterstock)

It is a day to remind us about something very important. February 8 comes along every year to remind us of the importance of keeping the internet a safe zone. It’s the annual Safer Internet Day.

There is a lot in our homes that now connect to the internet. We stay online for work, play, communication, shopping, gaming, banking, investments and much more. That means we leave a lot of data online, have countless accounts and IDs as well as a deluge of emails waiting in our inboxes.

The numbers are mind boggling. The latest Consumer Cyber Safety Pulse Report from Norton Labs, released late last month, gives us the numbers for the entirety of 2021 from the online threat landscape. The data, collected from NortonLifeLock technology (it uses AI and works with broader insights) in the company’s online security applications for PCs, Macs and smartphones, makes for grim reading. A total of 3.6 billion threats were blocked in the year globally, with an average of more than 9 million threats blocked every day on an average.

These products also reported back that 53.9 million phishing attempts were prevented, 1.4 million mobile malware files blocked and 221 million file-based malware stopped in its tracks. As many as 253,063 ransomware detections were nipped in the bud. That’s a lot of bad intention floating around the world wide web trying to catch you unawares.

Also Read: Apple’s privacy push: Understanding its deep impact on Meta, other platforms

There is a silver lining to it. Google’s search data trends for 2021 suggests that there has been a 35% increase in the number of searches about frauds and scams, from users in India, Vietnam, Taiwan, Pakistan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Australia. There has also been a 20% increase in privacy and data breach related searches in India, Japan, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong.

But how should you go about following the safety rules of the internet and keep your data secure, your personal information safe, identify signs of identity theft, phishing, or malware, and not fall for the baits that often come your way in the form of emails, pop-ups and seemingly harmless messages?

Update, update and update

First things first, every single device you are connecting with the internet must run the latest software. Older software will likely have vulnerabilities and bugs that hackers would know of and look to exploit – if you haven’t updated, you’ll not have the latest patches to close these doors.

PCs and laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart home devices such as speakers and security cameras, smart TVs, your internet router and even your smartwatch – everything must go through the regular update cycle for the latest software. So must apps.

Android, iOS, Windows, macOS, Apple tvOS, Fire OS, you name it and every platform gets regular security patches – there is no excuse for laxity.

Get on top of your passwords

If your password has been part of a data breach, it is important you get that information sooner than later. Even more so, if you’re recycling the password for multiple online accounts. The simplest place to start is with your web browser. Microsoft Edge has the integrated Password Monitor and Apple Safari has Compromised Password monitoring.

Outside of web browsers, Google offers the built-in password manager in its account’s options. Mozilla, the makers of the popular Firefox web browser, has a free tool called Firefox Monitor, which collects breach updates from popular online tool Have I Been Pwned.

Enable two-factor authentication, or 2FA, as an additional protective measure. Even if your password and log-in details end up as part of a data breach, anyone trying to access your account will likely hit a roadblock if you have this enabled.

Don’t click on bad links

It is often said that if an offer sounds too good to be true, it often is. That’s how you should approach these promises on the internet. If someone is attempting to give you something for free, or a deal that is just too good to miss out on, miss out on it. Emails, messages, and pop-ups will often look like they are from trusted senders – could be Netflix, could be your bank.

Do not click on any links sent in a mail or message, do not download, or open any attachments, and if it is an email, check for the email address of the sender. And if you still aren’t sure, directly go to the website the email or message or pop-up wants you to go to (but don’t click on the link they want you to click).

If a dodgy email from what claims to be Netflix says your subscription will get cancelled because your payment details aren’t updated, open another tab in your web browser, log in to your Netflix account and check if the service has genuinely thrown up any red flags.

Not every Wi-Fi is a safe place

It is human nature to see a free Wi-Fi network and immediately latch on to it. It may seem like a harmless act, but a Wi-Fi network that’s unsecured can have a hacker snooping on data being transmitted on that network. Coffee shops, airports, hotels and public places don’t often have the most powerful security measures in place.

You’ll not realise this, but your data can be broadcast and intercepted on such networks – these will include your log-ins and password, for instance. Stay off free Wi-Fi, if possible. Else, use a virtual private network app (VPN) to add a layer of protection for your data – NordVPN, Surfshark, ExpressVPN and ProtonVPN are good options.

Protect your children

Children with smartphones and tablets is empowering, opening the gates to a world of knowledge and realms of entertainment on a single device. Yet as parents, it will be important for you to keep tabs on what your children may be doing online. You don’t need to physically access their phone (it may be harder to pry the phone out of a teenager’s hands than you may imagine).

Apps such as Google Family Link and Microsoft Family Safety let you connect your child’s phone with the parent account you have on your phone. The metrics you get to see include how long a device has been used for, the apps and games being accessed, time spent on each app, and also set the time as well as access limits, filters for apps, games, web searches and content, while also log the screen time.

A Cyberbullying Research Center study in 2019 said more than 27% of kids have experienced cyberbullying in the 13 years prior – with some limits in place, you’ll be able to shield your child from that unfortunate reality of the internet, particularly social media.


    Vishal Mathur is Technology Editor for Hindustan Times. When not making sense of technology, he often searches for an elusive analog space in a digital world.

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