Using the internet is part of everyday life. But because it’s so common and so convenient, it can be easy to forget the dangers that exist online.
Just as you take measures to protect yourself while doing other daily activities (like locking your doors or buckling your seatbelt), it’s always a good idea to take steps to keep your information safe with a secure online connection.
When we’re talking about using a secure online connection, it really comes down to one word: encryption.
What is Encryption?
Encryption protects the information you send online by scrambling otherwise readable text and numbers to be unreadable by anyone that doesn’t have the decryption code. Think of it as translating the information you send over the internet into a language that can be understood only by the intended recipient. That means you can send emails, access bank accounts and do your taxes over the internet with the peace of mind that your information will remain secure.
When using the internet, it’s important to understand the difference between website encryption and network encryption. Many websites use encryption. In fact, the majority of websites (especially commonly visited online retail sites) are encrypted. The easiest way to tell if a website is encrypted is to review the web address (or URL) of the website. If the web address begins with “https,” the website is secure (the “s” stands for secure). It may also have a little padlock directly to the left of the URL in the address bar. But if the beginning of the web address begins with “http” (without the “s”) or doesn’t have the padlock icon, any information you send on that site may be vulnerable.
It’s not always easy to tell if the information you send over the internet is secure. Mobile apps, for example, usually don’t show their security status the same way a website does. In fact, many mobile apps don’t encrypt information properly, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That’s why it’s important to understand whether the network you’re using to access the internet for your mobile apps is secure.
Many free, public Wi-Fi hotspots that don’t require a password, including those found at libraries, cafes, airports, etc., are not secure. And if you pay for internet through an internet service provider, you might assume that you have a secure network, but often you need to take extra steps to keep your information safe online.
Keep Your Home Network Secure
Your home network links your computers, printers, phones, gaming consoles, etc., giving you convenient access to multiple devices at once. It’s important to make your home network as secure as possible. Here are some tips to get you started:
- Change the Name of Your Router: Change the default name of your router to a name that’s unique and doesn’t easily identify you personally (such as your name).
- Set a Passphrase: Change the default password of your home network to a sentence containing at least 12 characters that you can easily remember.
- Use a Guest Passphrase: Some routers allow you to set up a guest network with a separate passphrase. Doing so can give you an extra layer of security when others want to access your internet.
The National Security Alliance also has some more in-depth recommendations you may want to review.
Stay Secure Using Public Wi-Fi
According to the FTC, most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt the information you send online. That means if you use an unencrypted network to visit an unencrypted website, other users can potentially see everything you do online. The FTC recommends a few ways to protect yourself and your information when using public internet.
- Make sure each individual website and webpage you visit is encrypted.
- Log out of accounts when you’re finished using them.
- Use different passwords for each of your online accounts.
- Change the settings of your computers and mobile devices so they don’t automatically connect to nearby Wi-Fi networks.
- Use a VPN (virtual private network) to encrypt information between your computer and the public network.
Whether you use your home network or a public network, ensuring security should be a top priority. Take these steps to keep your network secure and you can access the internet knowing your personal and financial information are protected.