Manning River Times

Cybersecurity 101: How can Aussie consumers stay safe online?

Cybersecurity 101: How can Aussie consumers stay safe online?

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The COVID-19 pandemic saw Aussie consumers shopping, banking, working, and studying online at an unprecedented rate. And now, following months and months of lockdowns, our online habits haven't changed very much since the pandemic era at all.

There are still record numbers of Aussie consumers shopping online. The issue is that not all of them are always getting what they pay for, with rates of scamming and phishing attacks also on a steady incline.

Alongside this shift in the number of online shoppers and scammers alike across the country, we've also witnessed increases in the use of VPNs in Australia, as more Aussie netizens realise the importance of developing and maintaining cybersecurity measures.

But how exactly can Aussie consumers ensure their safety when surfing the web? Whilst there's no singular 'fix-all' patch to cybersecurity, there are several approaches consumers can take that when combined, will be able to offer them a safer browsing experience and secure, private connection when shopping online.

Here are the top cybersecurity measures recommended by Australian cybersecurity experts.

Use a VPN service

If you're wondering what a 'VPN' actually is, you're not alone. VPNs only became common knowledge in Australia during the pandemic and in response to spikes in cybercrime triggered by COVID-19 lockdowns.

In a nutshell, a VPN (or 'virtual private network') is a service designed to provide internet users with a secure, encrypted connection through which they can then access the web. VPNs work by using remote VPN servers that VPN users then connect to in order to jump online and maintain an encrypted and thus, near-anonymous connection.

We say 'near-anonymous' because whilst VPNs can obscure your IP (internet protocol) address by providing you with a new one that's possessed by the VPN server, malicious third parties can still observe that you're accessing that particular site or platform with a VPN.

Alongside this, if you use a VPN connection to log into personal accounts online, doing so may potentially reveal your identity and your geographical location anyway.

Cybersecurity specialists see VPNs as a necessary foundation upon which netizens can build their own tailored, dynamic cybersecurity strategy. So what other components should you consider incorporating into your own strategy?

Stay on top of software updates

Staying in the loop with software and device system updates is a highly effective, zero-cost method of ensuring that you and your devices stay safe online. Simply put, software updates are generally designed by software developers to keep applications in peak shape for an optimal user experience.

What many device users aren't aware of, however, is that software updates also include security patches that help apps keep their security measures current, effectively helping apps detect and combat malicious third-party activities. In fact, the majority of regular software updates that you may be prompted to download are solely for bolstering the security of that application.

With this in mind, device users cannot afford to delay updating all of the applications on their personal devices as soon as software updates become available.

We recommend setting up automatic software updates, as well as periodically reviewing the apps on your devices in order to remove old apps you may not be using anymore.

Set social media accounts to private

Although many social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram encourage users to maintain public profiles as a means of expanding their audience reach, there are some very real dangers associated with being too open with your personal life online.

Hackers can use public profiles to gather all your personal information. For instance, simply posting photos of a birthday celebration can easily let malicious users know your date of birth as well as how old you are. Checking into or tagging locations can also let hackers know your geographical location or areas that you're likely to frequent.

All of this information can be used to create spear phishing attacks designed to scam you out of your money or even additional personal data that can help hackers paint a clearer picture of you both as a user, but also potentially as an individual. If malicious parties are able to gather enough info, you may become vulnerable to phishing or other kinds of cyber attacks.

Keeping your social media profiles private or restricting public access to your posts can help drastically reduce your chances of falling victim to a wide array of cybercrimes, ranging from identity theft to digital fraud.

Only shop on trusted sites

Of course, keeping your social media profiles private is just one part of the equation when it comes to sharing personal information online. As stated earlier, the COVID-19 pandemic saw millions of consumers around the world making purchases online.

Alongside this, hundreds of thousands of new eCommerce ventures started popping up across the world wide web, with many Aussie consumers recognising new digital companies running ads on their social media feeds.

Unfortunately, simply having a website isn't a sign that a digital store is legitimate. There are many fake eCommerce sites out there that have been set up to look impressive without actually delivering what they've advertised. Shopping at these sites has led to consumers losing hundreds of thousands of dollars waiting for seemingly quality products that never show up.

Thankfully, there are ways that you can spot a fake eCommerce website, some of which include reading reviews left by previous customers, and checking the site's contact info as well as its Google transparency report.

If the site doesn't have a section for customer reviews, you should be inclined to consider that a red flag. Reviews may also be found by Googling the site and checking for customer feedback on other forums like Reddit.

Develop an eye for identifying scams

Last but not least, the best way of ensuring that you stay safe online is simply by knowing what warning signs to look out for when it comes to engaging with dubious content. Understanding what a scam looks like is key to minimising your chances of falling victim to one.

Stay in the loop with phishing attacks that are working the rounds in your area, workplace, or school, and train yourself to think critically whenever concerning or even enticing content is shared with you.

Developing strong digital literacy skills is paramount to staying safe online, and should be prioritised alongside building strong cybersecurity measures. After all, the best cybersecurity strategies are those that are dynamic and adaptable.