When faced with the challenge of staying safe online, it’s no surprise that we’re all motivated by the best of intentions to help spread advice that on the surface seems reasonable and sound.  However, as technology evolves sometimes the best advice fades and is quickly replaced by better tactics, in response to the ongoing fight against cybercrime.

Over the years I’ve found that many people have been left with outdated and now incorrect assumptions about how to stay safe – with much of the advice turning into myths.

Myth #1. Passwords must be overly complex and impossible to remember

While this advice is still good in theory, it has since been replaced by two much more important pieces of advice that you should consider first:

  1. The length of your passwords is just as important and makes them unbreakable, not just the complexity (or randomness) – ensure your passwords are at least 15 characters in length.
  2. Many passwords are being compromised these days because they are re-used – never use the same password on any two websites or systems; here’s a video with some tips on that.

Myth #2. Only email attachments that are executable files are dangerous to open

Wrong! I still hear this one from people who don’t understand the risks of opening ALL types of e-mail attachments.  Recent and very dangerous examples have been Adobe PDF documents and Microsoft Word documents.

If you’re not expecting an attachment from someone, delete the e-mail to be sure; and at the very least ensure your computer is up to date (including all software such as Adobe Reader and Microsoft Word) and using software such as AVG Internet Security.

Myth #3. Popup messages asking you to update could be fake

A number of years ago there were quite a few examples of “fake” software upgrade popups tricking people into installing malware.  This epidemic appears to have left many users jaded with the perceived risk and also the inconvenience of installing updates at seemingly random times – but updating is one of the most important tasks you should be doing.

The best advice, however, is to ALWAYS update when prompted – in fact, if you do, the chances of ever seeing a fake popup are minimised as a result!

Myth #4. You should never write a password down

There are in fact some cases where writing a password down is a really good thing to do.  For example, to secure your Home Wireless Network you should make sure the WiFi password is long (at least 20 characters) and so complex that you don’t remember it – writing it down somewhere and storing at home in a safe place is perfectly acceptable.

As long as you secure any written passwords and keep them somewhere safe, like in a locked drawer, the risks of them being compromised are quite limited.

Myth #5. Your Internet banking credentials are the most important thing to keep safe

When people are asked what their most important online thing to protect is, they’ll often say their Internet banking details.  And in the process they completely forget about the importance of protecting their e-mail account; especially if it’s an online account such as Gmail, Yahoo or Outlook.com.

Fraudsters are able to exploit poorly protected e-mail accounts in a number of ways, and this can also directly affect your family and friends who may be targeted with scams.  Protect your e-mail account by using a unique password for your e-mail and turn on all additional features such as two-step verification if available.

Until next time, stay safe out there.