Keeping your data safe online can sometimes feel a bit daunting. Everyone knows hackers are out there, using their well-honed IT skills to steal personal information and rip off unsuspecting people and businesses. But how do you properly defend you and your family against hackers?

If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. In fact, nearly half of people (46%) are confused about how to keep their personal data safe online. That’s according to a survey published last year that lays bare the challenges many people face to stay secure online. 

The UK-wide survey by Ipsos Mori found that many people are resigned to becoming victims of cybercrime: 70% said they expected to fall victim to such a crime over the next two years, and  over a third (37%) agreed that losing money or personal details over the internet would be unavoidable.

The impact of online crimes such as identify theft can be devastating for victims and their families. You may have money stolen and lose personal and private information, including photos and personal documents. Your identify may also be used to apply for services such as insurance, bank accounts, credit cards and other financial products.

So, what can you do to stay safe online? You’re probably already taking some simple steps; most people, for example, use a pin code to unlock their phone or a password to log into their laptops.

But there are plenty of other small things you can do that will make a real difference to your security and give you greater confidence online. It’s often not about a one-off effort, but instead about getting into good habits to stay safe online.

Here are 10 essential steps to better cyber security:

1. Don’t overshare on social networks

If you live on Facebook, are addicted to Instagram, or need your regular Twitter fix, then it can be easy to get carried away and share too much personal information.

You should never post anything on social media that could give your identity away, such as your age or photos of your ID. Also be sure to properly manage your social media privacy settings.

2. Regularly check your bank account for unusual payments

It’s easy to miss unusual payments among your many outgoings. But keep an eye on your bank account, and if you spot anything that doesn’t seem right, immediately report it to your bank; it’s better to be safe than sorry.

3. Change your passwords

As inconvenient as this may be,  you need to create strong passwords. Don’t reuse the same passwords for different websites, or a hacker will be able to take the leaked data from one attack and use it to login to your other accounts.

Never save passwords on your device. Instead, consider using a secure password manager to help you store passwords for all of your accounts. These services can also help you generate strong passwords.

4. Keep an eye on your credit score

While you may check your bank account regularly, do you do the same with your credit score?

By checking your credit score, much like you would your bank statement, you can see what searches are happening against your name. If there is some unusual activity, it could be the first sign that you’ve been a victim of identity theft.

There are plenty of different sites that allow you to monitor your report, including Experian, Noddle and ClearScore. 

5. Report any fraudulent activity

If you have been scammed, defrauded or experienced cybercrime, then report it to Action Fraud, the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime, and obtain a crime reference number.

You can do this at any time of the day or night using Action Fraud’s online reporting tool.

6. Check if your data has been compromised

It’s really quick and easy to see if your personal data has been compromised by a data breach.

Simply input your email address into a website such as Have I Been Pwned. You might be shocked to find your account has been compromised in several data breaches.

If so, it’s time to change your passwords and make them much stronger.

7. Shred your documents

Don’t forget the basics and be sure to carefully shred any paper documents that include your personal information.

8. Be cautious of joining public Wi-Fi networks

Don’t just automatically join a Wi-Fi network in a cafe, airport or other public place.

Fraudsters can set up public networks and give them any name they choose making it difficult to spot.

To protect yourself, ensure you’ve turned on your firewall, and have up-to-date malware protection before joining any Wi-Fi network.

9. Ensure your anti-virus software is up to date

Keep all your anti-virus software updated, so you have the latest security patches in place.

It can help to turn on automatic updates and set your security software to run regular scans on your device.

10. Spread the word

Finally, help your family and friends, particularly if they’re less savvy about these things.

The Ipsos Mori survey showed that one in three (34%) people rely to some extent on friends and family for help on cyber security, with older people being particularly reliant on other people to help them out.

You could be doing someone a big favour by reminding them about the need to take these steps to stay safe online.

For more information about how to protect your home and belongings, go to Solved.