As a distance learning student, you probably spend a fair amount of time online, checking your e-mails, doing research, uploading assignments, and communicating with your fellow students via instant messaging and social media.


Protecting your privacy should always be top of mind when you share your personal information online. Proactively looking after your personal information online will help protect you from identity theft, and will help you keep your online reputation intact.


According to a recent global study conducted by Kaspersky, 27% of people have been affected by an online security incident. Despite 55% of people believing that the number of threats to their online security is increasing significantly, 38% don’t know how to protect themselves from cybercrime.”


Follow these easy steps to prevent someone else from using your personal information:


1. Install anti-spyware and antivirus software

Computer security includes installing reputable anti-spyware, antivirus scanners, and firewall software. This will prevent unauthorised access to your computer and personal information. Remember to keep these security tools up to date.


People are increasingly using their smartphones to access the internet, both for personal use and work purposes. Despite this, the Kaspersky study found that only 56% of internet users protect their smartphones with a security solution, but 89% protect their computers. Ensure that your phone’s security settings, including lock systems, passwords and encryption settings, are properly set up.


3. Be smart when using instant messaging (IM) programs

Be careful when downloading images and attachments that are sent to you via instant messaging programs such as Skype and WhatsApp. IM programs are often used to send viruses and transfer malware (software which is specifically designed to disrupt or damage a computer system) to another computer. Only download files from sources that you trust.


4. Create strong passwords for your online accounts and devices

Ensure that you use different passwords for each of your online accounts, as well as for the devices you use to surf the net. Use unique and hard-to-guess passwords. Never use easily identifiable information such as names, birthdays, or your username. Use a mix of alphabetical and numerical characters, and include uppercase and lowercase letters when choosing a password. Also choose a password that is at least six characters long. The stronger your password, the more difficult it will be for someone to hack into your account. Failing to use unique, secure passwords for your online accounts and connected devices could leave you vulnerable to hackers.


5. Watch out for phishing scams

Phishing scams are e-mails that appear to come from a legitimate company such as your local bank. Their aim is to trick you into providing your banking information, account numbers, or other personal information such as credit card details. Remember this: your bank will never ask you to confirm account information via e-mail.


6. Don’t overshare on your social media accounts

How much information do you share on your social media profiles? Think about it. You check in every time you visit a new place, post photos of your holiday, and keep your friends updated with your plans for the weekend. If your account is not secure, strangers could have access to this information, and use it against you. Don’t share too much information. Check your privacy settings on your accounts, and only accept friend requests and follows from people you know. To see how much of your information is visible to other people on Facebook, click here and follow the steps.


Also read: 5 tips on how to avoid embarrassing yourself on social media


7. Use secure sites

Make sure you are visiting secure websites before handing over personal information such as banking and credit card details. Secure websites normally have https:// in the URL. The ‘S’ at the end of HTTPS stands for ‘secure’. It means all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.


Take responsibility for your privacy online:
remember that your digital footprint is visible not only to your friends and family, but also to employers, colleagues, and financial institutions.


Note: This article was originally published on 21 January 2015, and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.