The COVID-19 pandemic saw Australians experiencing the highest number of online scams ever recorded nationwide.
Many households found themselves falling victim to SMS and email scams designed to look like shipping updates and notifications, as scammers took full advantage of the rapid growth of the eCommerce sector across the course of the pandemic.
Cybersecurity analysts have outlined two key approaches that Australians can take to ensure that they stay safe when shopping online: boosting their own digital literacy and adopting a proactive approach to their home's cybersecurity that includes the use of a VPN.
But what is a VPN? And how can everyday Australians with minimal knowledge of cybersecurity implement their very own highly effective home security strategy?
We'll be exploring the answers to these questions below.
First and foremost, it's imperative that all Australian consumers who find themselves shopping online regularly invest in a VPN as a foundational element of their cybersecurity strategy.
A VPN (or 'virtual private network') is effectively a means of encrypting your internet connection when browsing online.
VPNs work by providing your local wireless network with an encrypted 'tunnel' through which you'll be able to browse the world wide web without third-party users being able to see your IP address (learn more).
Without your IP address in view, any potentially malicious third parties won't be able to gauge who your network provider is, where you're located in the world, and other vital information that may put you at risk of experiencing cyber attacks like digital fraud and identity theft.
VPN use has grown substantially in recent years for a variety of reasons, including the fact that obscuring your geographical location online allows web surfers to access area-locked content like videos on YouTube or TV shows that are available on Netflix US instead of Netflix Australia.
VPNs are, however, just as effective for ensuring your safety online as they are for streaming and other forms of entertainment.
There are also dozens of VPN services available for consumers to choose from, ranging from VPNs that are free to use, and subscription-based VPN services.
You can choose the right VPN service for you by simply reading the fine print on each and every shortlisted service in order to find the package that suits your personal security needs.
So why do cybersecurity experts assert that every Australian household should be equipped with their own VPN service alongside other cybersecurity measures?
Well, the short answer here is that the rest of the world is already practising cybersecurity at home.
The long answer is that as technology evolves, so too does malware. With every new generation of software updates for all of our personal technological devices, there come periods of uncharted territory, where hackers and scammers can produce and publish links to malicious software that can virtually appear anywhere online or even in your mobile apps.
Utilising cybersecurity measures like VPNs, internet security packages, and ensuring that all of your personal devices are updated promptly whenever updates are made available, can work wonders when it comes to keeping your household secure online.
It's well worth noting, however, that investing in the right hardware and software is just one part of the equation here too.
Educational reform and the introduction of cybersecurity seminars in workplaces can also play a highly important role in ensuring that Aussie households and businesses stay safe as we delve deeper into this digital age.
Of course, learning how to spot scams online is a lot easier for digital natives than it is for older generations. Young people who've grown up alongside the internet and the invention of the smartphone are more likely to be able to spot disingenuous content online, and knowing what to look for can play a major role in ensuring that you stay safe when surfing the web.
But can individuals be taught to recognise warning signs in digital spheres? Actually, they can. Teachers across Australia have been advocating for the inclusion of digital literacy skills into existing ICT curricula, ensuring that children leave primary and secondary education with an ability to understand and disseminate information that's presented to them online.
Boosting digital literacy rates will ensure that both young Australians as well as older generations will be able to think critically about the information they find online, and will thus, be less likely to fall victim to scams as they appear in a variety of forms, from malicious emails to fake news articles.
Alongside boosting digital literacy rates, cybersecurity experts also assert that basic knowledge surrounding coding and web development may also help to keep Australians safe online, as even a working understanding of the modern web can further support digital literacy educational materials.
With the introduction of hybrid work schedules that allow professionals to alternate between at-home and in-office work comes to the simultaneous introduction of more dynamic threats online, including the potential for business information to become vulnerable when accessed on personal computers.
Many professionals use their personal technological devices when working from home, which can lead to malware found on online shopping platforms and other sites visited during leisure time to gain access to sensitive organisational information.
Alongside practising the methods we've outlined above, working Australians can keep their sensitive personal and professional information safe simply by separating their work and personal devices, and by utilising a variety of complicated passwords for all of their personal and professional accounts online.
Cybersecurity professionals also advise that web surfers update their personal and professional passwords regularly alongside utilising multi-factor authentication to limit the possibility of third parties gaining access to any highly sensitive spaces online like email inboxes, banking apps, and other digital channels for online shopping or financial services.
Staying safe online demands individuals to take their cybersecurity firmly into their own hands, and equip themselves with a strong understanding of the risks they take whenever they engage with unknown profiles, sites, and other dubious content online.
Surfing the web conscientiously and with digital literacy skills in mind will likely keep many Australians from falling victim to text and email scams in 2022, but it's only an investment in cybersecurity software and tools like VPNs that will drastically reduce your risks of procuring any nastier, insidious malware along the way too.
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