The internet is great for so many things – a never-ending source of information and entertainment. We can browse the web on our phones, tablets, laptops as well as our desktop computers; if we never want to be offline we don’t have to be. Not only that, but everything is linked together – we can take a picture and share it instantly, and everything can be saved to a Cloud (however that works?!). With all of that going on, we need to know how to protect ourselves, whatever we are looking at online and whichever device we’re doing it on.

Pop-ups

Pop-ups are screens that appear randomly while you are browsing the web. They can contain downloads or viruses which harm your computer, so it’s important never to click on them except to close them. They may have appealing offers like ‘click here to win a free iPad’ but they are usually just trying to redirect you to a website where you will need to spend money or download something that might install a virus.

If a pop-up screen opens on your computer, just close it using the cross in the corner of the screen, the same as you would any other window.

You can also get pop-up blockers. These are usually free, or come as part of an anti-virus package, but you’ll need to make sure that the one you get is reliable. Some browsers, like Google Chrome, block pop-ups on their own, so you may find that you don’t need a blocker at all.

Emails

Emails are a great way of keeping in touch with friends, getting offers and vouchers, and keeping up-to-date with news. But people can hack into email accounts and send viruses to the saved contacts. You might not notice if your email has been hacked. However, you might find that you get a lot of failed email reports, strange responses or if one of your contacts has been hacked, you may get a lot of emails that you don’t want.

Emails are one of the easiest ways for a person to get a virus onto your computer and they’re quite clever about how they do it. Sometimes, an email might look like it’s coming from your friend but actually its spam. It might be obvious that it’s spam because it has a strange subject line that you know your friend wouldn’t write. However, more often the email will say something like ‘Hello?.’ It may have an attachment which could contain the virus.

If you think you have been sent an email like this, delete it without opening. If you’re worried that it might really be from a friend, you can always contact them and ask if they sent it.

You also need to be careful of emails that ask for personal details. This is usually called ‘Phishing’. It might look like an official email from your bank asking you to give them your account number or PIN, but trustworthy emails will never ask for any personal details. This includes your address, date of birth, account details, passwords or passcodes, and log-in details. If you have an email like this, delete it. Never give out this sort of information – people can use it to steal your identity or access your bank accounts. If you think the email may be genuine – don’t log into your bank from the link in the email. Go through your normal internet browser, using your usual methods of logging in. You can also forward on suspected spam or phishing emails onto your bank. A quick internet search will give you the email address to forward it to.

Meeting people online

Everyone likes to socialise online. Most people use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites to talk to their friends and keep in touch. However, it can become dangerous if you start to become ‘friends’ with people you don’t know. Talking to people you already know and sharing things with them is usually OK, but if you have never met someone, you don’t know that you can trust them. No matter how much you ‘think’ you know them from talking to them online.

The problem with getting to know someone online is that you can’t always be sure that they are who they say they are. You have no way of knowing whether the 18-year-old girl you’re talking to is actually a 40-year-old man. This is part of the reason that you should never meet up with someone you’ve met online. You could end up in a dangerous situation, where someone tries to take advantage of you or forces you to do something that you don’t want to do. This can be the case even if you feel like you know the person well and have been talking to them for ages.

If you really do want to meet up with someone, and even if you think they are trustworthy, make sure you take a parent or friend with you, that lots of people know where you are going and who you are going to meet. Always meet in a public place too.

Your online image

Your online image, or ‘online reputation’, is important. It is about how you are portrayed on the internet, and includes everything, from photos you’re tagged in on Facebook, to people you follow on Twitter. A lot of employers will check out your profiles if they are thinking of hiring you, so it’s worth being aware of what your online reputation looks like.

To make sure that what people see about you online is what you’d be happy for everyone to see, from your parents or grandparents to potential employers.  Always think about what you are posting before you post it. How will it look to other people? Does it paint you in a negative light? How are you going to feel about it later?

It is also useful to make sure that only your friends and family are able to view your social media pages. You can do this by changing your privacy settings on your social media accounts.

Remember, that if someone tags you in something you can always un-tag yourself. You can also ask the person to take it down, and if they refuse and it’s about you, you can report it to the people who manage the site.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is the term that is used to describe online bullying. With all of the social media platforms around, there are lots of ways that people can be bullied. Somebody might be commenting on photos or statuses, calling you names or saying rude things about you. They might be doing this publicly so that everyone can see, or they might be sending you private messages.

If you think you might be being bullied online, or someone has said or done something to upset you, you need to tell someone you trust straight away. They’ll be able to help you to resolve the problem so the bullying stops.

There are also things that you can do to help control the bullying. It’s important not to reply. If you don’t rise to the bullying then the bully might get bored and leave you alone. Although the things that bullies say can make you angry, and you might want to say something horrible back to them, try not to. That’s usually exactly what they are looking for.

You can also block people on most social media sites. This means that the bully won’t be able to contact you in the same way anymore and puts you back in control. You can also delete any comments that you don’t want on your pages.

The most important thing is not to let it stop you from being online. If you like chatting on social media, carry on. Ignore any nasty comments that other people are making and enjoy talking to your friends; take down anything that you don’t like and report anyone who is bullying you.

If comments or bullying makes you scared that someone might hurt you, you can report it to the social media site and the police. Most social media sites have a button where you can report abuse or inappropriate behaviour.

The internet can be a fantastic tool. It can help you in all aspects of life. However, it’s important to be aware of potential dangers online to ensure you are savvy and stay safe.

Useful links:

BBC’s WebWise –  http://www.bbc.co.uk/webwise/topics/safety-and-privacy

http://www.netsmartz.org/SpecialNeeds

http://www.safetynetkids.org.uk/personal-safety/staying-safe-online/

https://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/keeping-children-safe/online-safety/talking-your-child-staying-safe-online/