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By Faizel Patel

Senior Digital Journalist

5 tips for surfing the internet safely

In SA, there are 41.19 million active internet users, with 78.6% of the country’s population accessing the internet via a mobile device

One of the greatest technological events of humanity was the day in 1991 when a web page was published for the first time worldwide.

From that moment on, the internet has continued to grow and change every aspect of our lives – from the way we work to how we live.

Each day, millions of people use the internet to access different search engines on the web and to be updated and informed about daily events, communicate effectively, and perform different tasks that provide greater comfort and well-being.

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According to Statista, as of January 2022, there are 41.19 million active internet users in South Africa. And most of us – approximately 78.6% of the country’s population – access the web via a mobile device.

Research by Sortlist also found that South Africa comes 4th globally for the most time spent online, with the average person spending 10 hours and 6 minutes a day browsing.

Because we’re online daily and for long periods of time, the risks of being a victim of cyber-attack via the internet are increasing.

According to a report by Check Point Software Technologies, Q2 2022 saw a historic peak, with global cyber-attacks increasing by 32% compared to Q2 2021.

Some of the most common dangers internet users may be exposed to are:

  • Malware: A variety of malicious software: computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses, ransomware, spyware, adware and scareware, among others. It can take the form of executable code, scripts, active content and other software. The most prevalent forms of malware across Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) include Emotet, Formbook, AgentTesla, Lokibot, XMRig, Remcos, Qbot, Tofsee, Ramnit and Glupteba. 
  • Phishing: A social engineering technique used by cybercriminals to fraudulently obtain confidential information from users to steal their identity. This can include theft of personal data, credit cards, and bank details, among others. One of the most common forms of phishing is through the imitation of well-known or trusted brands, with phishing links placed in innocuous emails that unsuspecting victims click on. Internet users the following advice to surf safely and minimise the risks:

Five tips to saty safe online

  • Only visit secure websites: Many websites do not have security measures in place, either because they are poorly configured (putting shared information at risk) or because they are malicious. For this reason, it is essential to take extreme precautions when sharing personal data on the Internet, and to know which websites are secure. The best technique is to check whether the site follows the https security protocol (i.e. if the beginning of the URL includes an ‘s’ in ‘https’, this means it is a secure website and is adapted to protection standards. Another sign present in some browsers is a green padlock at the beginning of the link).
  • Always install updates: It is often thought that updating software and applications is unimportant. However, this habit of ignoring updates can be a huge risk, as the different protection patches put in place to solve previously detected security errors are not implemented. In other words, having the latest software update will optimise the level of security, and is an effective strategy for keeping data and files safe from potential security breaches.
  • Do not use the same username and password for different online services: More and more services, programs and applications can be used over the Internet. For this reason, users often use the same access credentials to keep things simple and avoid forgetting passwords. This is a huge mistake, because if a cybercriminal can gain access to the user base and passwords of any of these applications, it will be very easy to break into the rest. It is essential to use unique passwords for different online accounts, and to not use passwords that can be easily guessed (birthday, pet’s name, etc.).
  • Download applications only from official shops: Games, social networks, online banking – there are more and more mobile applications available for download, which means users tend to install a large number of programs on their mobile devices. It is important to make sure that whenever you download one of these apps it is from an official shop (Play Store, App Store, etc.), and that you read the different conditions of use, as some of them can be abusive and assume control over your data and information.
  • Protect your devices: A cybercriminal can gain access to a smartphone, tablet or computer in many ways, thereby stealing an incalculable amount of information. Given this, it is essential to protect yourself against cyber-attacks with security software that protects your devices and information. Software like Check Point’s ZoneAlarm Mobile (home version) and Harmony Mobile (corporate version) help protect devices against advanced mobile attacks.

Pankaj Bhula, Regional Director for Africa at Check Point Software says the internet is part of everyone’s daily life and after the pandemic its use has intensified even more.

“For this reason, it is important to know the dangers we are exposed to every time we perform tasks such as browsing sites or downloading an application, and to stay protected with a prevention-first stance to avoid putting our data at risk,” says Bhula.

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