Staying Safe Online And When Making Payments

05/09/2016 14:38 | Updated 05 September 2016

The digital world is evolving every day and, as a result, staying safe online is becoming more and more of a relevant issue. From seemingly secure and quite big companies, to individual people, no one is safe from being hacked online.

To help people understand more about the risks to privacy and security, and some current leading-edge cyber security research, I and my colleagues at Newcastle University's School of Computing Science are hosting a free online course, Cyber Security, Safety at Home, Online, in Life.

In the course we'll talk about some research that has had a real impact, such as recent work by my colleagues Maryam Mehrnezhad, Ehsan Toreini, Siamak Shahandashti and Feng Hao, which showed that malware designed as a fitness app, or even javascript embedded on a web page, can use the accelerometer data stored by the mobile phone to reveal PINs and passwords. This flaw, which imposes serious privacy risks to end users, was reported by our team to browser vendors and the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) and as a result, a new version of the W3C specification was released and patches were released for several common browsers.

This experience illustrates the continual battle between security experts and fraudsters, with each trying to stay one step ahead.

We'll also look at some easy precautions people can take in order to protect themselves online or when making payments, including the following:

Staying safe when making online payments:

1. Use an online wallet such as PayPal or Google Wallet to pay for your online purchases
This prevents your credit card details from being sent to online retailers.

2. Buy from online retailers that have a good reputation
Do some research before buying from an online retailer you haven't used before.

3. Never put your whole wallet on a contactless card reader
The contactless readers used for buses and trains can read your credit and debit cards, so you can end up with money leaving an account you weren't expecting.

Staying safe online:

1. Be careful when you accept web cookies on a website
Web cookies are a mechanism that websites use to remember information (such as items added to your online shopping basket) or to monitor your movements around a web page. Controlling how you choose to accept 'cookies' in your web browser can prevent you being tracked as you visit different websites.

2. Change your privacy settings
You can control what information is held about you by downloading your personal data from Facebook or Twitter and changing your privacy settings, allowing friends (rather than the general public) to see your social profiles.

3. Use different email addresses
You can break up your online interactions by using different email addresses for social network, shopping, work and other activities. This gives some protection if one account is compromised, and makes it less likely that separate pieces of shared information can be accumulated together.

4. Don't use the same passwords for different accounts
Although this seems incredibly obvious, it's really important to use a different password for every account you create. Without doing so, you become vulnerable to being hacked on multiple accounts. A password manager can help to manage multiple passwords.

The free online course, Cyber Security, Safety at Home, Online, in Life is available on FutureLearn and starts on the 5th September 2016.