Safer Internet Day: don't be an online sheep - our Top 10 Tips help you think before you act

Filed Under: Featured, Privacy, Social networks

11 February 2014 is Safer Internet Day.

That's a European initiative aimed at helping youngsters to enjoy the internet without putting themselves at risk.

Last year at this time, we published ten short and simple Top Tips for young children and teenagers online.

This year, we thought we'd remind you of those tips, keeping them even shorter and simpler, so that they're easy to remember.

As you read them, you may find yourself thinking, "Those tips are too restrictive. Only an old timer or a wet blanket would be so strict."

For example, we're about to tell you not to friend people on Facebook unless you actually know them, which sounds as though we might as well be saying, "Don't use this new-fangled online Facebook stuff at all. Your grandparents didn't need it, and you don't either."

We're not really wet blankets.

We know that, sometimes, you will want to friend people on Facebook precisely because there's no way to communicate with them otherwise - perhaps you live in Kenya and your potential new friend lives in New Zealand.

Our online Tips aren't absolute or inflexible rules, and from time to time you may choose to "break" them.

What we want you to do is to start from a position of caution.

Then, "break" our online rules only when you have thought carefully about doing so (and, ideally, after you have asked your parents' advice).

Remember that a lot of online services rely on an approach called opt out.

That means they assume that the features of their service are so fantastic that everyone is going to want to use them, so they choose them for you anyway.

Then they give you a way to turn those features off at a later stage, if you ever get round to it (that's what is meant by opting out).

We suggest taking an opt in approach.

Don't do what everyone else is doing because Facebook, or Google - or Sophos, for that matter - made it the default.

→ Where computers are concerned, the word default means the choice that is made for you automatically if you don't take the time to choose for yourself.

Don't be a sheep.

After all, if those features are that good, you can always turn them on for yourself, after you've made your own mind up.

So here come our Top Ten Tips.

We've made them restrictive so you learn to stop and think first before you make online decisions, or let other people make decisions for you.

Once you have given something out online, it's hard to change your mind later and get it back.

But if you don't give it out at first, you can always choose to do so later, after you've had a think about it.

  1. Limit your Facebook profile to your friends only.

  2. Accept online friend requests only from people you already know, and like, and trust.
  3. Only upload things you are happy for the whole world to see, including your parents, friends and even your enemies.
  4. Never give out your address or agree to meet in person someone you've "met" online.
  5. Set a password lock on your phone or any other device you use, and make sure it locks automatically when you aren't using it.
  6. Don't click on suspicious-looking links.
  7. Tell your friends in person if you receive unusual messages from them. (Someone could have stolen their passwords.)
  8. Always log out - don't leave any account open when you go away from your computer, phone or other device.
  9. Don't pick easy passwords - mix up letters, numbers and funny characters so other people can't guess what you chose.
  10. If you see something upsetting, or dangerous, or dishonest, speak up! Tell a parent or a teacher.

Learning more

If you'd like to learn more about computer security in general, you might like to take a look at our Threatsaurus.

It's a clear and informative compendium of computer threats, written in plain English, and it doesn't talk down to you like some "expert guides" do.

Best of all, you can tell your parents and your grandparents about it too. (They may not have needed Facebook back in the day, but I bet they'd have used it if they'd had it!)

Let the Sophos Threatsaurus and our handy online Threat Index help you teach your friends and family how to stay secure.

→ Video won't play or too small on this page? Watch directly from YouTube. Can't hear the audio? Click on the Captions icon for closed captions.

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7 Responses to Safer Internet Day: don't be an online sheep - our Top 10 Tips help you think before you act

  1. trilldaddy20 · 601 days ago

    This is all great info! Seems like it's geared towards kids, which is extremely important but something to consider for parents is two-factor authentication. When you said make strong passwords, a good program to note is LastPass. LastPass creates really strong passwords and stores them all in a database and then Toopher secures it with two factor authentication. This means that someone can try to hack into your account, but they'd need to approve it on your cell phone in order to get in.

    • Paul Ducklin · 601 days ago

      Good points. But for the many services that don't support 2FA, and even for those that do, you need decent passwords. (I suspect that a lot of time that kids spend online is done by means of a smartphone - and many smartphone equivalents for desktop apps/websites don't support 2FA, even if the "big" version does.)

      And if you use a password manager, then you need a truly decent password as your "one password to rule them all."

      PS. The advice *is* geared to kids. See the first three sentences of the article.

  2. Barney · 601 days ago

    4, particularly the "Never agree to meet in person meet in person someone you've "met" online." Seems overly cautious and likely to overly restrict many people's personal and professional lives if followed.

    We meet strangers in public places all the time, and I don't think meeting people we've "met" online first can be much more dangerous.

    • Paul Ducklin · 601 days ago

      Remember that this article is geared towards children (that's what Safer Internet Day is about - see the start of the article), and that our rules are merely guidelines.

      As the article explains, thse tips are starting points for online safety. By all means, "break" the rules, *but only after careful consideration* (and, ideally, after asking your parents).

      Do you *really* think, even that if your own children adopt rule 4 *absolutely*, with no exceptions (i.e. never allow themselves to be talked into face-to-face meetups) that their personal and professional lives will be overly restricted?

      Same goes for Tip 2. Clearly, one of the benefits of sites like Facebook is that you can pal up with youngsters from overseas in ways that your parents and grandparents never could. But only with plentiful caution.

      The point is this: online, you can say "no" now and then change your mind to "yes" later, but if you act like a sheep and follow the crowd that lets "yes" be the default, you can't go back to "no" later.

  3. Anonymous · 566 days ago

    "Always log out - don't leave any account open when you go away from your computer, phone or other device. "

    This is not possible with every software at phone, tablet or similar.

    • Paul Ducklin · 566 days ago

      Which apps force you to stay logged in all the time? (Might want to stop using them.)

  4. Facebook refusenik · 505 days ago

    Rule Zero: Don't sign up to Facebook - the human race lived without it up until about a decade ago.

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About the author

Paul Ducklin is a passionate security proselytiser. (That's like an evangelist, but more so!) He lives and breathes computer security, and would be happy for you to do so, too. Paul won the inaugural AusCERT Director's Award for Individual Excellence in Computer Security in 2009. Follow him on Twitter: @duckblog