June is National Internet Safety Month, as designated by the U.S. Congress and supported by the National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA). It’s the perfect time to increase your awareness of online safety and to learn ways to protect your identity and data throughout the year - and Norton agrees.

The Internet is a tool we use every day to shop, to bank, to file our taxes. And, as with any tool, we need to use it with care. Just as the Internet makes it easier for us to manage our everyday lives, it also provides cybercriminals with easy access to our private information and financial records.

To this end, the NCSA asks everyone to follow three simple steps when connecting to the Web: Stop. Think. Connect.™

Here are a few guidelines to help keep you and your family safe online - whether you’re on a PC, Mac, tablet or smartphone.

Stop

Even before going online, stop to consider the security risks. Remind your kids to be aware, too. Everything is not as it seems on the Internet. Enforce some parental control and online street smarts.

Just as you would stop to look both ways before crossing a street, you should stop before clicking on unknown links. A link with a shortened (and thus hidden) URL that’s posted on a social networking site, for example, may take you to a malware-infested site.

Stop before proceeding, and think safety first. Always be cautious of any links or emails you receive from unknown recipients, or ones that just seem suspicious.

Think

That’s right. Think before you click. Someone you just met online wants to know everything about you: your full name, your home address. Hmm … sounds fishy, doesn’t it?

While you may know to not reveal such information, do your children? Make sure they do. Ask them to consult with you first before they post anything personal online.

Requests from strangers should always send up a red flag, but what if you receive an email from a trusted friend? Sometimes the risk isn’t always obvious, but it may be if you stop to think.

Picture this scenario: You just received an email from a friend you’ve known for years. He didn’t say much, or maybe the message didn’t sound like him. Ignoring your suspicions, you click on the link in the email - and now your PC is being pumped full of dangerous malware, including botnets.

Botnets can turn your PC into a “zombie” - meaning your computer starts issuing commands under the instructions of the malware. Prevent a botnet takeover with these easy steps:

  1. Ask questions. Getting back to our first point, stop. Ask if this message makes sense. You’ve known your friend for years. Why did he suddenly send you a nonsensical message asking you to check out some product?
  2. Contact the sender directly. Do not hit reply! Replying could let the group who wrote the malware know they have a live address. Your email account may have been compromised, so call your friend and ask: “Did you send this? It seems suspicious.”
  3. Use a comprehensive online security suite. You wear safety glasses when using power tools, so employ the same school of thought here. Be prepared. Make sure your browser and security software are up to date. 

Connect

Having the confidence to connect will be natural after you learn to take the time to stop and think about your online actions. Still, it doesn’t hurt to take some extra precautions.

Before you connect to public Wi-Fi at a coffee shop or the airport, be aware that shared, unsecure connections can make it easier for unscrupulous types to eavesdrop on your Internet session - without you being aware it’s happening.

Play it safe before connecting. Wait until you’re on a private, secure connection to check accounts that require a login. This includes your bank account, online email and social networking sites.

Also, be aware of those around you. Someone might be reading what you type. Try to keep your mobile device’s screen turned away from any prying eyes. 

Stop. Think. Connect. And enjoy!

There’s much to enjoy on the Internet.

Cybercriminals are counting on you to be unaware and to not take Internet safety precautions. But now you’re three steps ahead of them. You know to stop, think and then connect. Deliver the same message to everyone you know to keep your family and friends safe.

A chain is only as effective as its weakest link - so keep all your links strong!

For more tips on increasing your online security, check out Ask Marian - the blog written by Marian Merritt, Norton’s Internet Safety Advocate.