A good deal of the hardships we experience online are self-inflicted. Hackers can use the personal details we post on social media to attack us. Using easy-to-crack passwords puts you at risk for dangerous data breaches and clicking malicious links can lead to huge headaches.
Cybercrime is costing Americans more than ever before. Last year, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received an average of 1,300 complaints per day, totaling more than $3.5 billion in losses for individuals and businesses in 2019.
Fortunately, taking some basic precautions and knowing what not to do online can save you from trouble down the road. To keep you safe, here are eight key things you should never do online.
1. Oversharing on social media isn’t wise
Oversharing on social media is a uniquely modern problem, one most people aren’t aware can hurt them. It’s one thing to share a photo or two occasionally, but each bit of information you share with platforms like Facebook and Instagram helps advertisers build a stronger profile of you and your interests.
Plus, once this data is on social media, it’s basically public. This means anyone with access to your profile can look at or save your posts as they please. Some companies even make a living off the private data you’ve overshared. Tap or click to see how Clearview AI scraped millions of people’s faces from Facebook photos.
Now think about this scenario: You’re excited about your new home and want to take a picture showing off your shiny new house key. What you don’t know is just how easy it is to make a duplicate key from a photo.
We love to brag about our kids, so why wouldn’t you post the new driver in the family with their license? Unfortunately, it’s easy for anyone to zoom in and find details like your home address.
Private info lurking in the background of our photos can cause some real damage, too. If you keep your passwords taped to your monitor or have a paycheck sitting on your desk, beware. You better believe criminals are looking for details like these.
Now consider all the security questions you set up to add extra protection to your various online accounts. Those typically include questions like, “What’s your hometown?” “What’s your dog’s name?” “What was the first car you ever owned?” Criminals can find those answers pretty easily just by perusing your social media accounts.
If you must share on social media, consider adjusting your privacy settings and restricting your content to “friends only.” At the very least, it’ll keep companies like Clearview away from your data. Tap or click to see the privacy settings you need to change on Facebook.
2. Don’t share where you’re going!
This goes hand-in-hand with oversharing on social media. Not everyone needs to know where you are at any given moment, and providing this information flippantly can lead to severe consequences like getting your home broken into.
Let’s say you recently posted about how much you’re loving your new 4K TV. A few days later, you follow that up with great photos of you and the family at Disneyland. Whoops, now everyone knows you’re not home – and criminals could be considering how nice your 4K TV would look in their living room instead.
It can be difficult not to share location settings, though. Many platforms like Facebook and Twitter encourage you to share this information, but it’s important to know their motives before you make this decision. In their cases, it’s for targeted advertising. It offers no benefit to you other than bragging rights.
Instead, you should consider restricting location data on your phone. Doing so will remove much of the targeted advertising you’ll see online and can make your internet experience seem less creepy and invasive. Tap or click here to find out how to do it.
3. Torrenting? In 2020? Knock it off!
Back in the early days of the web, digital content wasn’t quite so easy to obtain. Sure, you had access to DVDs from your local video store (remember those?) and library, but what if you wanted to download a movie and put it on all your devices?
BitTorrent was the answer for millions of early netizens, and the practice of torrenting persisted well into the late 2010s. A torrent file is simply a placeholder that downloads tiny pieces of a larger file while uploading them back for others to download. This makes the platform ideal for “file sharing,” or more bluntly, pirating.
Torrenting sites are attractive targets for cybercriminals to attach malware. Between corrupt or compromised torrent files and download clients, it’s easy to infect your system if you choose to use this method.
One particular torrenting platform, The Pirate Bay, was found to be riddled with malware. And with a name like that, who could have seen such a thing coming? Tap or click here to see how risky The Pirate Bay was.
If you’re considering torrenting a file, ask yourself why you’d choose that method over another, more secure option. Alternatively, consider researching if the media you want is streaming on a legal platform. Odds are, you’ll get your content much faster and much safer. Tap or click to see how streaming services compare.
4. Faking your IP address is risky. Use a VPN instead!
Privacy is a scarce online resource these days, so more users than ever are trying to mask their presence on the web. Whether you’re removing information about yourself or attempting to conceal it, there are multiple ways to go dark on the internet. Tap or click here to find out how to delete yourself online.
To stay stealthy online, many users rely on services like Web Proxies to hide their IP Addresses from websites and advertisers. While this is an effective way to conceal this information, using a Web Proxy can be dangerous for your security.
Web Proxies are often unencrypted, which means an enterprising snoop or hacker could still spy on your activities. Plus, many free proxies run their traffic through sketchy servers that can expose you to malware.
To stay safe, using a VPN is the best route. VPNs are encrypted and private, which will keep your traffic from being decoded. We recommend our sponsor ExpressVPN for its speed, reliability and security — no matter what you’re doing online.
5. Get your own Wi-Fi (and use a VPN on public networks)
Believe it or not, not everybody has Wi-Fi. Usually, the people without it rely on their cellphone service exclusively for internet access. But as anyone can tell you, not every part of the country has reliable service when you need it.
This leads users to steal or piggyback on unsecured Wi-Fi networks, which are often owned by local residents who are less tech-savvy.
But just because you found someone without security on their network doesn’t mean it’s okay to share their connection. In fact, sharing a connection with a stranger can be dangerous to both you and the other user. You can even potentially expose each other’s networks and devices to malware.
The same risks apply here as with public Wi-Fi networks, which also lack the security settings you need to stay safe. As we’ve advised in the past, if you must use a public network, make sure you’re using a VPN to protect and mask your traffic from everyone else who is connected.
Alternatively, you could opt for mobile tethering for internet on the go. Tethering uses your phone’s wireless network to connect to the web, which is much safer for your devices and your privacy. Tap or click here to ditch public Wi-Fi for tethering.
6. Sharing and distributing copyrighted material will get you in trouble
Do you love sharing images you find online with your friends and family? Aside from viral memes, sharing copyrighted materials can actually get you in legal trouble. If it’s from a feature film, book, video game or copyrighted broadcast media, you could be slapped with a takedown notice.
This is all possible thanks to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which gives rights holders the ability to request takedowns of media used inappropriately or illegally. It’s the reason that YouTube video with your favorite song in it might have been removed from the platform.
If you want to use media for a project or promotion online, you’ll need to make sure it’s “fair use” media. This means the original copyright holders are fine with people using their materials freely. You’ll find many images on Wikipedia are listed as fair use, which is why they’re on the free platform in the first place.
When you’re looking for free digital images, we recommend scouting royalty-free platforms like Unsplash. All of the photos there are fair use and are great for any digital media projects you might be working on. Tap or click here to find out more about Unsplash and fair use media.
7. Don’t fall for fake promotions, contests or giveaways
How many times have you gotten an email saying you’ve “won” something? If you haven’t, you might want to check your spam folder (but don’t open anything, please!).
Fake contests and promotions are some classic tools con artists use to trick netizens into giving up their money and free time. And in the age of Big Data, the problem has only gotten worse.
Many contests and promotional websites do nothing more than collect and share data with affiliates. It’s why you’ll suddenly see more bizarre spam emails and targeted advertisements after signing up to win that free iPhone.
To stay safe, avoid any and all contests that don’t come from legitimate sources. If it’s a major TV or radio station running the contest, you’re probably safe. But social media accounts and random banner advertisements are not the most reliable resources for free stuff.
Instead, you might want to check out our list of legitimate contests that can net you some serious prizes. Many of these contests are run by big-name companies and media platforms, so their track records will speak for their trustworthiness.
And just like with oversharing on social media, don’t bother telling others you’ve signed up for a contest or sweepstakes. After all, why would you want to reduce your chances of winning?
8. Sharing and spreading fake news is part of the problem
While fake news and disinformation wouldn’t necessarily fall into the category of cybercrime, they are two of the biggest issues currently facing the digital space. Between all the noise, it can be difficult to discern truth from reality. And that’s just what malign actors and hostile foreign governments are hoping for in their attempts to sow confusion.
In a study performed by MIT in 2008, fake and sensational news was found to travel up to 20 times faster than real news. This is due to a natural human tendency to want to be “first” in sharing new or unknown information. We also have a tendency to share stories that appeal to our existing biases.
Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are not reliable news outlets. In fact, most of what you’ll find on these platforms are just rumors spread by overexcited users. Tap or click here to see how fake coronavirus news spread wildly on social media.
Before you share that controversial story and crack that pet conspiracy theory wide open, try to check the source against other, more reliable outlets. Major news agencies have a responsibility to fact check claims before reporting, so if you see a story that seems too good or bad to be true, wait a few days to see if it gets picked up.
If it doesn’t take off with bigger press outlets, it’s not that they’re “suppressing the truth.” That story just didn’t meet the smell test.
You’d be surprised to see the number of people who are still ignorant about the dangers of oversharing and spreading fake news. But we should work on spreading internet safety practices and reliable information. A safe and knowledgeable internet audience is one that spreads fewer viruses and suffers less cybercrime. Who wouldn’t want that?