Watch your back or else: Helpful online security tips


Tom Rivas, Features Editor

These days, almost everybody owns a device capable of accessing the internet. People are constantly interacting with one another, sharing sensitive information 24/7. Many users download apps and simply trust that the software is safe and secure.

With so much of our personal information out there in cyberspace, can we protect ourselves from cyber crime?

Michael McKeever is a Computer & Information Science instructor at SRJC who teaches classes on computer networking, operating systems and how to secure them.

“The most common way an electronic device can be compromised is by connecting to a free public Wi-Fi network and doing transactions that include confidential information,” said McKeever. “You should never do any banking or credit card purchasing while on a public Wi-Fi network unless you use a VPN.”

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) enables users to securely access a private network and share data remotely through public networks. It secures your computer’s internet connection, making sure that the data you’re receiving and sending is encrypted and secure from cyber criminals.

“The biggest problem with a public Wi-Fi network is all this information is in the air and somebody can capture it. Anybody with a wireless antenna and a wireless card can pick up the data in the air and given enough time can crack it if it’s encrypted,” said McKeever.

McKeever says not to be overly paranoid but to be aware of protecting your online activity. There are plenty of tools that hackers have access to, so knowing what they are could save you from being a victim.

Some online scammers like to use a tactic called phishing which someone impersonates a business to trick you into giving them your personal information. Phishing scams are often sent through emails, text, or pop-up messages. They ask you to update personal information, such as a password, social security, credit card or bank account numbers.

For example, the culprit sends you an email from what looks to be a legitimate business, most often a financial institution. The email contains a link to a fake website which replicates the real one. Delete email immediately. Legitimate businesses never ask you to send personal information through emails or pop-ups.

Also be cautious when deciding to open an attachment or downloading files from emails, even if you know the person. The files could contain viruses or malware that can weaken your computer’s security. Once these are opened your computer is finished.

Having a strong password is very important. It’s easy to be lazy and use the same one for every account, but this is a bad idea. This gives cyber criminals a better chance to access all your accounts. A strong password should have at least 12 characters including numbers, symbols, capital letters and lower-case letters. Make sure you keep your passwords hidden at all times, and don’t keep them in places where others may have access.

McKeever says students and other members of the college community should take precaution when using public computers. Even though the network claims to be secure you don’t know for sure who has access to the content that gets posted through that network. When working on public computers treat the environment like someone is watching everything you do.

Rodrigo Alarcon is a student at SRJC who uses the campus libraries computers to do his homework. He feels that using any public computer to access personal information is a bad idea.

“I’m kind of paranoid about cyber security because what I’ve read about security breaches,” said Alacon. “I only use my personal devices to check personal information when I’m online.”

When sending sensitive information over the internet, students should make sure to use HTTPS in the URL. HTTPS stands for Hyper Text Protocol Secure and is the secure version of HTTP.  This means that all of the information being sent between your browser and the website is encrypted.


Browsers like Firefox, Internet Explorer and Chrome will show a padlock icon in the address bar to show that HTTPS connection has been applied. If the address bar is missing the padlock or HTTPS, don’t send personal information or you will risk identify theft.

Keeping your personal information secure is easy and a good habit to get into. Spending extra time learning what cyber thieves are doing can help you to avoid any problems down the road.