Cyber security:

How you can stay safe online

Cyber security: how to stay safe online

John Williams

with Associate Professor John Williams,
Deputy Director, UQ Cyber Security

In October 2019, the Australian Cyber Security Centre released statistics showing that over 13,500 reports of cyber crime had been received in the last four months, at an average rate of approximately one every 10 minutes. Identity theft, romance scams and ransomware are some of the most common complaints, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. The impacts of these crimes can be devastating for the victims, whether they are private individuals, businesses or organisations.

Four basic steps you can take to reduce the risks of cyber crime:

1. Enable two-factor authentication where possible

Passwords have been with us for a long time, but are vulnerable to being stolen, lost or intercepted. Two-factor authentication (also called 2FA, or MFA for multi-factor authentication) combines a password with a second way of proving your identity, often through a physical security token or smartphone app which generates a code that must be entered, in addition to your password.

Many online services now offer 2FA, including email providers, banking and online shopping sites.

Stay safe online with two-factor identification
Stay safe online

2. Use secure, unique passwords

Many online services use your email address as your login identity. If you reuse your email password and that service is breached, attackers can use that to gain direct access to your email, and from there begin to take over other online services.

For this reason, you should always use a unique, strong password on important services such as email, online banking and social media, and never reuse these passwords.

Consider using a reputable password manager, which not only helps to remember all of your passwords, but can also generate secure, unique passwords for every different online account you use.

Finally, check to see if any of your online accounts have been compromised, by going to This site gathers data about account breaches – already listing more than half a billion accounts – and makes it searchable, so you can see if you are at risk.

3. Enable automatic updates

Software companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google regularly publish software updates to fix security issues.

Installing these updates helps protect you against cyber criminals who exploit these issues to gain access to data and systems. In most cases you can configure your computer, phone or other device to automatically install security fixes.

4. Be sceptical

Scammers can try to trick you into visiting sites that look like the real thing, but are actually just copies designed to steal your login and identity information.

Never login to high value sites such as online banking or through links received in email or text messages. Go directly to the organisation’s homepage and log in from there.

Finally, if you are in any doubt about the information contained in an email or text message, attempt to contact the business or person through an independent, verifiable means, such as their official website.

Image credits: Lorenzo Herrera on Unsplash; Andras Vas on Unsplash; Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Stay safe online and be sceptical of websites

What should you do if you are a victim of cyber crime?

Cyber crimes against individuals, businesses and organisations should be reported through, but remember that if there is an immediate threat to life or risk of harm, call 000.

For more ideas on how to stay safe online, visit

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