10 Practical Ways To Protect Yourself — And Your Mental Health — Online

Creating safe online spaces for women

Hey, how’s the internet treating you lately?

The internet has seamlessly weaved itself into our lifestyles ever since it turned from a luxury to a necessity. It’s now part of our careers and our hobbies. We use it to connect with family and friends. It even paved the way for expressing ourselves in a different sphere.

But it’s not exactly the most friendly place, is it?

gender hate speech in asia pacific

We're sure that you’ve had your fair share of burnout when dealing with social media. At some point, you’ve probably felt left out after seeing someone seemingly do better than you based on their social media posts. Or maybe you’ve received rude or mean comments on a post you genuinely felt happy to share on your personal page.

Still, severing ties with the internet is a complicated matter since it’s something that is tied into our day-to-day commitments and relationships.

International Women’s Day 2023 theme: #EmbraceEquity through ‘Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality’

Following International Women’s Day 2023’s theme #EmbraceEquity, UN Women called for creating an “equitable digital future” by encouraging support for women’s better use and understanding of technological advances including online spaces. This also pushes for safer environments for women to navigate, as well as encourages them to learn and evolve, in the digital sphere.

Zooming in closer to home, gender hate speech is considered one of the biggest forms of online violence committed against women in the Asia-Pacific region. This, along with misinformation, voyeurism, and other forms of online harassment, leave our public identities — as well as our personal lives and mental health — vulnerable.

Actionable ways to protect yourself online

1. Avoid oversharing on the internet, especially when it comes to your routines

You’d think that in 2023, with everyone spreading their digital footprint for the world to see, it’s perfectly fine to share whatever you want to and be chill about it. Of course, it’s easy to assume that having a few hundred followers wouldn’t make you a worthy enough target, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Now don’t get us wrong! Putting location markers or posting updates if it’s a special occasion or a long-awaited trip is fine. But avoid putting your full routine on display, such as the cafe you frequent every Saturday or your day-to-day schedule. This allows anyone to keep tabs on your activities, opening a ton of opportunities for stalking, identity theft, or fraud. It sounds like a reach, but hey, it happens!

dangers of oversharing on the internet

2. Plan your passwords wisely and use information that isn’t easily accessible to everyone

Passwords are your first line of defence when it comes to protecting your online space. While it is sentimental to use a family member’s name or birthday as your passcode, this information is easily accessible through your public records and documents, which means they’re also easy to decipher.

Choose a password reference that only you know, like the street you grew up in as a kid, your favourite cartoon, etc. Make the password even harder to crack by combining both uppercase and lowercase letters, alphanumeric characters, and special characters in its syntax.

3. Don’t just change passwords frequently, turn your Two-Factor Authentication on too

Around five or six years ago, changing passwords frequently was one of the most popular internet safety prevention methods around. But technology evolves and so do hackers. That’s why nowadays, using Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) is more effective in adding another layer of protection to your online accounts and devices. This usually connects your account to your mobile number or smartphone device and sends you a separate authentication method once you log in using your password. You will also receive prompts if your accounts or devices are being accessed elsewhere.

how to protect yourself online with two factor authentication

4. Keep calm and don’t fall for phishing scams

There are a lot of phishing scams on the internet that are so easy to detect. We might even find most of them laughable given the ‘wEiRd CaPs’ used in the emails or messages or the bad graphic design accompanying the shady links. However, well-made phishing scams exist and they often prey on people’s ability to make rash decisions when they’re put on edge.

We’re talking messages that have your full name and account details to a tee, with legit-sounding prompts telling you — ironically — that you’ve been hacked. These types of scams can trigger your panic response, making you more prone to fraudulent schemes.

If you receive messages concerning your accounts or personal information, stay calm. Check all the details in the messages, from the number or email address to the information — everything. If the account concerned is connected to an app on your device, check those for any weird activities. If it concerns bank accounts or anything you can verify over an official hotline, do that. Do not click on any of the links provided or transact with anyone involved in something you find questionable online.

phishing scam prevention

5. When enabling biometric authentication, go for fingerprints instead of face recognition

Biometric authentication is undeniably one of the biggest leaps in technology we’ve had in the last two decades. Many devices now carry biometric authentication technology which allows a much quicker way to open accounts, pay bills and more through your smartphone or tablet. However, between fingerprint scanning and face recognition, fingerprint authentication proves to be a lot safer (at least for now) than face recognition.

For one, fingerprints are unique to every individual. Each finger also carries a different blueprint so unless you log all your fingers’ data on your phone or you log someone else’s prints, access is only restricted to the fingerprint matched to your device. It also requires direct contact with the device’s scanner in order to work.

Meanwhile, facial recognition technology is a lot easier to bypass. Since it’s contactless, someone can easily gain access to your device by using the sensor to detect your features when you’re sleeping or unconscious. Photos, 3D models, and deep-fake videos can also be used to trick facial recognition scanners.

biometric technology which is better

6. Make sure your devices have the latest software updates and have antivirus software installed

Software updates aren’t just there to make sure bugs on your devices are fixed so you can download the latest apps and get the newest emojis. They also include security patch upgrades that make it harder for hackers to mess with your device. The same goes for your anti-virus software. These preventive measures help create ‘digital walls’ to block online threats that you might have downloaded or accessed by accident as you navigate the internet.

How to have the best online experience for your mental health

Now that we’ve got the actionable points covered, here comes the tricky part: your mental health versus the internet. Unfortunately, there’s no amount of password-changing or two-factor authenticating that would protect you from negative online experiences. However, there are several ways that allow you to take control of your digital involvement for the sake of your mental health.

1. Only nurture healthy online relationships

We put our lives out for the world to see on the internet. In some cases, this welcomes unwarranted opinions from people that can hurt or damage our mental health if left unchecked. Feel free to create and tweak your online spaces in a way that makes you feel safe by nurturing healthy online relationships. Hit that Unfriend, Unfollow, Delete, Block, or Mute button if someone’s presence disrupts your digital peace. P.S. More on dealing with online negativity here.

proper internet etiquette against online negativity

2. Instead of a digital detox, learn to set proper online boundaries

We’re tied to the internet in one way or another and a digital detox may seem impossible despite being ideal. So what’s a better solution? Control how your life revolves around social media and your devices. Turn off unnecessary notifications. Let go of the notion that you have to constantly share a piece of yourself on the internet. Watch your screen time. It might be challenging at first but take a step towards setting online boundaries and watch the magic happen.

3. Use the internet as a resource to improve your mental health

One thing we should remember is that the internet is neither a good nor bad thing. It’s merely a tool that allows us, and the people around us, to work for either our own benefit or downfall. Once we acknowledge this, it would allow us to find better avenues to use online spaces for the sake of our mental health. There are many resources like online helplines or apps that are made accessible by the internet. Take it as a sign to get help when you need it and you may find that the internet can be a place of refuge too.

mental health and online security

4. Remember: you always have the choice to quit

With the world’s current digital dependency, there’s this impression that the internet is something we can never quit. While it's true to some extent, you still have a choice to quit a huge part of it at the end of the day, especially when it comes to your social media usage. Don’t believe us? If they’ve done it, then so can you.

There are many things about the internet that is beyond our control. While there’s no absolute way to be completely safe online, practising preventive measures to ensure one’s security is a must. Minding your own mental health as you navigate the internet is important too.

Most of our lifestyles may be tied to the internet, sure, but here’s a reminder that the choice to click — or quit — is an option even in today’s digital world.

Comments, questions or feedback? Email us at [email protected].

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