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Safer Internet Day – why not up your game?


Usually, when Safer Internet Day comes around, the cybersecurity situation hasn’t changed much from the year before, so it doesn’t feel like much of a reason to do anything special.

But that’s not the case in 2021, thanks to the lifestyle changes that the coronavirus pandemic has brought around the world.

In the US, for example, the Wall Street Journal reported that internet usage increased 25% in just a few days in mid-March 2020. 

On the other side of the Atlantic, Ofcom, the UK’s communication services regulator, reported that internet usage hit an all-time high in the year. By June 2020, Britons were, on average, spending more than a ==quarter of their waking hours== online.

That’s hardly surprising.

For most of us, the internet has been a godsend over the last year. It’s enabled us to continue working, studying, shopping, socialising and being entertained when we couldn’t do it in person.

School and university students around the globe are now following classes and submitting their homework online on a daily basis. In some countries, schools and universities are operating almost entirely online, with all “attendance” being virtual.

Online shopping is one area that’s been hugely impacted over the last year: the US division of Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, saw a 79% gain in online revenue in the third quarter of 2020, while in Brazil online sales surged 66% in 2020.

This change in shopping behaviour has had a major impact on retailers as well as consumers. 15% of UK companies have created roles specifically to cater to an increase in digital sales and boost online capacity Sept 2020, and a third (33%) of UK retailers have had website upgrades.

Just as we’ve all been stuck at home, so have the cybercriminals.

Over the last year the crooks have regularly exploited the health-related fears and anxieties of all of us – as home users, employees and employers – to lure us into their criminal traps.

For details of how the  threat landscape changed in 2020, please read the Sophos 2021 Threat Report.

With all this in mind, take advantage of Safer Internet Day 2021 to check your online security practices and make sure you, your family and your friends are as safe as possible.

If you own a website, make sure it’s secure

For many small businesses in countries with strict lockdown, online sales are the only way to keep trade alive at all, due to “click-and-collect” regulations.

As a result, many small businesses have enabled online purchasing for the first time over the last year, with web developers reporting a rush to implement online payment mechanisms in the first months of the pandemic.

If your business has a website, even if it’s only a modest one, go back and review the security of the site and any payment collection services you work with or connect to.

If you can afford it, get a third-party to do the review so you get an independent opinion of what has been set up well, which parts could be improved, and which parts, if any, need urgent attention. (You can be sure that the crooks are regularly “testing” your server, even if you’re not.)

If you are running a website via HTTP only, perhaps because the information you’re providing is public.

If you don’t manage your own website, speak to your hosting service – any reputable provider will be happy to answer your questions, and won’t get in the way of an independent security assessment.

If you shop online, take care before you share your card data

Read the 6 tips for online safety that we published over Thanksgiving weekend 2020 for the peak of the 2020 retail season known as Black Friday.

These tips apply all year round, and they’re easy to do.

From applying a credit freeze to using extra steps of authentication, we explain how to protect yourself from risk when you shop online, whether out of choice or necessity.

Educate your friends and family

Lots of occasional web users have become heavy consumers almost overnight. Many people who previously just used the internet to read the news or check emails are now using it in multiple ways every day, including for meeting up for chats with groups of people they don’t know well, if at all.

Talk with your friends and family about good online security practices. Advise them on how to spot scams no matter how they arrive.

Cybercriminals are taking advantage of people being at home to make *predatory phone calls*; are aubsing home deliveries to send scams via SMS; and are taking advantage of people trying to download health advice or set up vaccine appointments. 

Secure the devices you use to access the internet

Check out our tips for homeschooling. These tips are useful even if you don’t have children, because they explain how to stay safe now that most home networks have basically become small business networks in their own right.

Also check out our home Wi-Fi tips to help you lock down your network from outside snooping or surveillance.

Don’t wait until after something bad has happened to figure out how to protect against it!

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