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26 June 2015

Opinion: Internet safety tips

Tech writer Hadyn Green shares his advice.

Connect Smart is the New Zealand government’s campaign to improve the online security of individuals and businesses online. As Connect Smart week draws to a close, Consumer technology writer Hadyn Green decided to share his top tips on improving your online safety.

Turn on two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication is a way of logging in to websites. It works by sending you a text message with a unique code when you attempt to login to a site (you can set this up to only text once or with every login). The idea is someone might be able to steal or guess your password, but chances are they won’t have your phone too.

If you don’t have your phone on you, most sites allow you to download back-up codes. If you use these, keep them somewhere safe.

TFA is available on many major sites such as Twitter, Google (including Gmail), Microsoft and Dropbox. It’s always an opt-in feature though, so you need to find it in the setting menu and turn it on.

Have good passwords

We’ve written about strong passwords before and our advice hasn’t changed.

Capital letters and numbers only go so far and most password-cracking programs now look for simple substitutions like 3=E and so on. Adding in punctuation like “> ? ^ ( \” adds complexity to your password. A really strong password is something like: [9”8a.)%46g7_|2s. But good luck remembering that.

Instead take a sentence you’ll remember and turn it into a password. Something like “This little piggy went to market” might become “tlpWENT2m”. That nine-character password would be incredibly hard to crack. Throw in some punctuation and you’re good to go.

Consider using a password manager

Password managers are encrypted vaults that contain all of your passwords, so all you need to remember is a master password that opens the vault. Simple right? The trick is you need to ensure your master password is very strong otherwise it can be easy for hackers to crack.

Be careful about applications

There’s a lot of malicious software out there, but nearly all of it requires you to click on it or install it. If an application (on your phone or computer) has a list of things it will access on your phone or computer, read it carefully. Some malicious apps will attempt to access a lot of things they don’t need to, such as your personal data, contact list, browsing history or text messages. Some apps say they will post to social media on your behalf, meaning they could be contacting your friends and relatives under your name.

In minor cases, this results in a lot of spam and annoying advertising. In the worst instances, this can result in identity theft. The trick is to not just take everything at face value, be smart when installing applications and not just blindly clicking “accept” every time something pops up.

Be careful about your emails

Email filters are much better than they used to be, but they still have flaws. You need to remain vigilant when it comes to email scams, also known as phishing, that attempt to get your personal information. They no longer simply ask you to email in your password, instead they send you to a fake site that will look exactly like the legitimate site, such as your bank’s.

Before you click on any links in an email you’re unsure about, hover over it with your mouse and see where it will go. If the URL that comes up is something like, then it’s not your bank’s website.

If you are worried and want to login to your bank after receiving an email like this, close your email and go directly to your bank’s page and login from there.

Be careful on your phone too

There’s a scam that’s been running for a while where you may receive a phone call from “Microsoft” saying you have a computer problem. If this happens to you, hang up. Microsoft will never ring you and couldn’t detect if you personally had an issue with your computer in any case.

Watch those deals

Finally, remember some online stores are also dodgy. As the saying goes, if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is. So while you may find the greatest deal online for a product, if it's a website you’ve never heard of before, we recommend doing some research. Google it before you buy anything and see if there are any people complaining about it. Otherwise you could end up with a big credit card bill and a shoddy product or no product at all.

About the author:

Hadyn Green is a geek. He loves shiny new tech and the chance to try to break it. Because it’s the kind of thing people ask, here is the tech Hadyn currently uses. Phone: iPhone 6. Tablet: iPad Air 2. Streaming Music: Spotify. Headphones: Beats Powerbeats Wireless 2 (for the gym) and Beats Studio noise-cancelling (for sitting at my desk and tuning out the world). E-Reader: Kindle Touch. Gaming: PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360. Internet Service Provider: Snap.

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