The 9 Most Important Habits for Staying Safe and Secure Online

Christian Cawley 31-08-2018

You’ve installed your antivirus software, and you’re ready for any security threat the internet can throw at you.


Or are you? It’s easy to fall into a false sense of security when you know you’re protected by antivirus tools. Other steps should be taken to ensure your online experience is secure, private, and trouble free.

1. Update Java When Prompted

Keep Java up to date.

Let’s be clear: if you don’t need Java, it shouldn’t be installed. But if you really must use Java, then it is vital to follow the update notifications.

Despite regular warnings about its impending death, the Java Virtual Machine continues to be used, enabling programs to be written that run across different operating systems. Backwards compatible with previous versions, and with 20 years of development behind it, while Java can be a security issue if it is left ignored, it remains a powerful option for programmers looking to reach as many users as possible.

Using Java? When an update is available, ensure it is downloaded and applied.


2. Use a Password Manager

Your password is probably insecure. It’s an issue inherent with the system, rather than a fault of your own. However, that doesn’t excuse you using 123456789 as a password.

We’ve looked at how to create an ultra-secure password, but to save yourself time, effort, and the trouble of remembering dozens of complicated combinations, you may as well just use a password manager instead.

With a password manager, all you need to do is remember ONE single password (perhaps two if you’re using a companion mobile app) and let the password manager do the rest.

Capable of storing website addresses, usernames, and passwords, password manager tools can improve your security considerably. They usually include password generators too, ensuring you have ultra-secure passwords for all your accounts.


Stop worrying about passwords, and use a password manager instead. Check our list of password managers Is Your Password Manager Secure? 5 Services Compared Unless you have an incredible memory, there's no way you can possibly hope to remember all your usernames and passwords. The sensible option is to use a password manager -- but which is best? Read More for more information.

3. Cover Your Webcam

They’re watching you, and you don’t even know it. Well, they could be, easily. But are they? We don’t know, and that’s pretty much the point. With so many security incidents involving webcams and other security cameras over the years, it makes sense to disable or cover your webcam Why You Should Disable or Cover Your Webcam Right Now If you aren't careful, hackers can easily gain access to your webcam and spy on you without your knowledge. So you have two options: disable the camera or cover it up. Read More .

While you might feel that the likelihood of anyone finding your activity interesting is minimal (if not non-existent), adhesive webcam slide covers are affordable and easy to apply.

Trojan malware can be used to hack your webcam; this can reveal everything from the interior of your home, to precious jewelry you may wear. Would you really want criminals to know what is going on in your home?


Disconnect your webcam, or cover it up, when not in use.

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4. Use a VPN

A VPN connection setup in Windows

If you want to stay private online, you need a VPN (Virtual Private Network) service. Whether you’re concerned about Wi-Fi sniffers and Man-in-the-Middle attacks over public wireless networks, or you’re getting fed up with ad trackers, a VPN can help.


Essentially, your entire internet connection, from your computer to the VPN server, is encrypted. No one knows what you’re doing online, which can be useful if you’re concerned about state surveillance.

Sign up to a reputable paid VPN service for best results. We highly recommend ExpressVPN (save up to 49% off using this link) because it’s reliable and totally private.

5. Upgrade Archaic Operating Systems

Windows XP accounts for just over 2 percent of Microsoft’s operating system market share. This equates to around 28 million devices.

Clearly, it makes no sense to use a 15 year old operating system. This would be like using Windows 2.10 in 2003. As nice as the user interface might be on XP, it is unsuitable for the modern demands of computing. Memory management, data processing, network management, are all inferior compared to a modern OS.

But the biggest problem of all is security—or lack thereof. Simply put, Windows XP cannot handle modern security issues, whether antivirus software (which relies on the underlying framework of the operating system) is installed or not.

Get rid of your out-of-date operating system and upgrade to a modern OS.

6. Use Fingerprint Scanning

As useful as password managers are, they’re not foolproof 4 Reasons Password Managers Aren’t Enough to Keep Your Passwords Safe Password managers are valuable in the ongoing battle against hackers, but they don't offer sufficient protection on their own. These four reasons show why password managers aren't enough to keep your passwords safe. Read More . In some ways, they’re a holy grail for hackers, a library full of usernames and passwords to acquire.

As such, you should be using two-factor authentication alongside passwords. But to keep things even more secure, fingerprint scanning brings a whole new degree of security to your online life. While desktops may not ship with a fingerprint reader (unless you buy a dedicated USB reader, or your keyboard has one built in), laptops, smartphones, and tablets increasingly have such security.

All you need to do is register your fingerprint, then use it when prompted to confirm access to websites or apps.

If your system supports fingerprint scanning, use it for increased security.

7. Protect Against Ransomware

An early example of ransomware
Image Credit: Motormille2/Wikimedia Commons

Does your antivirus suite protect against ransomware? Some (such as Windows Defender) do this by preventing access to personal directories and libraries from unapproved applications. Most, however, do not.

Ransomware can leave your data locked, encrypted without any chance of access unless you pay a ransom. Even then, there’s no guarantee your data will be unlocked, or that other malware hasn’t been installed on your system.

Take precautions against ransomware Protect Your Data From Ransomware With These 5 Steps Ransomware is scary, and if it happens to you, it can make you feel helpless and defeated. That's why you need to take these preemptive steps so you don't get caught off guard. Read More , so that you can easily recover your data in the event of infection.

8. Uninstall Crapware

Unless you build your own system, your computer, phone or tablet likely came with software preinstalled.

Most of it will be useless.

Also known as “bloatware” or “junkware”, crapware takes up space on your hard drive, and can pose a security risk. For example, the Superfish scandal of 2015, in Lenovo laptops were found to be facilitating Man-in-the-Middle attacks, as well as hijacking the browser.

No one should put up with this after spending $1,000 on a computer.

Uninstall the crapware on your computer or phone.

9. Make Your Router Stealthy

Disable your router's SSID broadcast

Anyone with active Wi-Fi on their phone can find your router. The SSID (Service Set Identifier) broadcasts the name of the device. In doing so, however, your router advertises your presence in the offline world.

This could be a red rag to “wardrivers”, drive-by hackers who hijack wireless internet for their own purposes. Similarly, a visible network tells such people that there are data packets that they might be interested in intercepting.

While these things can still happen if the router’s SSID is hidden, they’re less likely.

Ensure your router is secure: change the default username and password, disable WPS, and disable the SSID broadcast option How to Hide Your Wi-Fi Network and Prevent It From Being Seen Wireless networks are less secure than wired networks. Want to hide your router? Here's how to do that and why you shouldn't. Read More .

Antivirus Is Not the Only Solution

The truth is, such software protects you from viruses, malware, and occasionally ransomware. But antivirus doesn’t prevent human error, manufacturer crapware, your failure to update software and operating systems, or encrypt your data. Similarly, antivirus doesn’t hide your router or cover your webcam.

Antivirus is just the first step on your journey to a more secure online experience. Don’t make it the final step; follow the steps in this article, which we’ll recap:

  • Update Java when prompted
  • Use a password manager
  • Keep your webcam covered when not in use
  • Employ a VPN
  • Abandon out of date operating systems
  • Use fingerprint scanning
  • Protect against ransomware
  • Uninstall crapware
  • Hide your router’s SSID

It’s not simple, and it will take some effort on your part. But just like other aspects of your life, these things will become second nature with regular usage.

Just make sure you have a good antivirus solution The Best Computer Security and Antivirus Tools Concerned about malware, ransomware, and viruses? Here are the best security and antivirus apps you need to stay protected. Read More to begin with.

Related topics: Fingerprints, Java, Online Security, Password Manager, Ransomware, Router, VPN, Webcam.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. dragonmouth
    April 7, 2020 at 2:55 pm

    "4. Use a VPN"
    There are two kinds of VPNs - Those that have already been shown to compromise their users' privacy and those that haven't been outed yet.

    "Simply put, Windows XP cannot handle modern security issues,"
    And Windows 7, 8, 8.1 or 10, can??? Please don't say that they're better than Xp because that is no endorsement. Windows O/S, no matter which version, is a like Swiss cheese - full of holes.

    "6. Use Fingerprint Scanning"
    You can always change your password. You can never change your biometrics.

    "8. Uninstall Crapware"
    Ditch Windows and install Linux or BSD.

    "9. Make Your Router Stealthy"
    There is a big debate going on as to whether disabling the SSID accomplishes anything besides giving the user a false sense of security. Any script kiddie with even rudimentary WiFi pentesting tools can easily discover the SSID.

    An important habit that was not mentioned is to replace the OEM aoftware on your router with a third party on such as DD-WRT, Open-WRT or Tomato. All three provide more options to secure your router and network.

  2. Godel
    September 6, 2018 at 9:30 pm

    The best advice for routers is make sure you're not using default login and password and do a firmware update when one is available. Check every three to six months at least.

  3. Julio Bozzo
    September 5, 2018 at 7:47 am

    In regards to "9. Make Your Router Stealthy", many security experts say that hiding your SSID for the sake of security is an outdated concept and that you'll benefit far more from using WPA2, AES and a difficult password.

    Some links on why you should not hide your SSID:

  4. dragonmouth
    September 3, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    Use a secure O/S such as BSD.

  5. Zhong
    September 2, 2018 at 2:58 am

    It's also to stay beware of emails asking for personal information and always patch your system, is there any tips on unix systems eg.. use guest account with no root power?

  6. tOny
    August 31, 2018 at 11:57 pm

    Finally! An ExpressVPN discount.