Online security and safety
The internet offers incredible opportunities and information for people of all ages, and it connects us in a way that we have never been connected before – especially in rural, regional and remote areas.
It means that we can more easily stay in touch with people, in spite of geographic distances. We can ring or message our children (perhaps at boarding school) and they can stay in touch with their family and friends, regardless of how far away they are. We can easily and safely work from home, removing the need for commuting. And we can talk to our doctors and specialists without travelling for hours.
But there is a darker side to this new accessibility – and like a real world highway, everyone needs to know and follow the rules, that everyone can have a safe experience.
We have gathered some basic tips and tools, along with some vital links, to help keep your online experiences as positive as possible.
If you feel your computer security has been breached, turn off your computer, devices, and internet services and call your service provider or the Regional Tech Hub for support
What is online or cyber-security?
Online – or cyber – security refers to protecting data and information networks such as your computer, tablet or mobile phone. If you do not take steps to manage your cyber security, your devices can get harmful viruses that may stop them from working, or you could lose important personal information such as credit card details to criminals.
The best way to stay safe is to never trust unexpected contacts. If something is real and proper, you can contact the person, organisation, business, or Government department directly when it suits you and with all your information in place. No legitimate organisation should pressure you to make a decision on the spot.
- Don’t provide private details, approval, or credit card details
- Don’t click links, download software, or open an attachment.
- Don’t sign up for products or services on the spot.
- BeConnected: Introduction to internet safety. A free, simple online course covering email safety, making credit card payments on the internet for online shopping, child safety and how to keep your personal data safe online.
- Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC): provides advice and information about how to protect you, your family and your business online.
- Scamwatch provides information on the latest scams and spam. You can report scams here as well.
- ACCAN: keeping yourself safe and secure online.
- Choice Australia: Internet privacy and safety.
- Choice Australia: Online safety guide.
How do I protect my cyber-security?
These tips and links provide a range of additional resources in specific areas of cyber-security. They apply to you individually, as well as to your business or property.
- Choose complex passwords for your devices.
- Do not use personal information like your name or pets names in your passwords. You should also avoid numbers like your address, phone number, and birthdays as this information can be publicly available and easily accessible to hackers.
- Use a password manager to store your passwords. For example, LastPass, 1Password, Norton Password Manager, Enpass.
Choice Australia: How to find the best password manager
Choice Australia: Password manager reviews
Don’t trust random contacts
- Don’t provide any personal details at all to someone who has contacted you.
- If you believe the contact might actually be a proper one, you lose nothing by hanging up the phone, or deleting the email, or closing the private message service.
- Contact the person, organisation, or Government agency directly through the official contact details they have provided to you or that can be found on their official website or social media account.
- There is no official Australian organisation that can threaten you in any way if you don’t do something the first time they contact you.
- No-one will ever give you free money or services.
ScamWatch: types of scams
Don’t click on links or attachments
- Never click on unexpected links in text messages, email, social media private messages. Never open attachments from random emails.
- Install malware/virus software on your computer, and have it scan software before you even open it up. This will prevent issues in the vast majority of cases.
Australian Cyber-Security Centre: Covid19 scam messages
Don’t download and install software on a random caller’s say-so
- Never allow anyone who calls you unexpectedly to access your computer, laptop or device.
- Many scammers will tell you to download a piece of software that allows someone to remotely access your computer. For example, perfectly legitimate tools such as TeamViewer, LogMeIn Rescue, GoToMyPC and others.
- Do not install this software at this time!
- Note: if your computer, laptop, or device has been supplied by a place of work, your work IT team may safely access that computer, laptop or device. Ensure that you call them first on the number supplied by your place of work.
- If in doubt, organise to visit your place of work with the relevant computer and get it fixed at the business location.
ScamWatch: Remote access scams
Additional resources for business, organisation or farm security
The tips for protecting your own cyber-security apply just as much to your business, employees, or property.
In addition, you need to consider the security of your business resources such as websites, business data, social media presence, laptops, computers, mobile devices, sheds, products, and employee access to these resources.
These websites provide reputable advice.
Australian Cyber-Security Centre: Small & medium businesses
Business.gov.au: Cyber security
National Australia Bank: Six simple online security tips for farmers
National Australia Bank: Online security help guides for businesses
Internet of Things Alliance Australia: Security awareness guides
How do people get to me?
There are criminals out there looking to take money from you, find your personal details to impersonate you or your business (“phishing” – fishing – for details for “identity theft”), or use your computer to send out scams, spam messages, or viruses.
They operate in a number of different ways. We’ve summarised them here. You can get much more detail at the ACCC ScamWatch site.
Criminals will call you on your landline or mobile phone. The call is often made by an auto-dialler, that methodically works through numbers until one connects. Being on the Do Not Call register may not prevent these calls.
There are many kinds of calls. Two common ones are:
- Supposedly from Telstra or nbn, informing you that your internet connection or computer has been hacked or is insecure.
- From an online supplier, informing you that you’re about to be charged a random amount of money. These calls are often an automated voice telling you to press “1”.
Once you speak to a real person, they may ask you to provide or confirm personal details, bank account, or credit card numbers. They may also ask you to install software on your computer so they can fix an issue.
Don’t give them any information, never provide credit card details over the phone, and don’t install software. Hang up immediately.
If you truly believe the call was real, call the relevant provider back on the number you have for them, or found on their own website. You don’t lose anything by hanging up on someone, and you may save yourself from losing money.
These turn up randomly, often with a scary message about your bank account, and asking you to click on a link.
Don’t click on the link.
If you believe the message might be real, contact your provider directly, or log into your bank account by opening the website or app. You don’t lose anything by not clicking on the link, and you may save yourself from having something nasty installed on your phone.
Never open attachments, or click on links, that come in via email.
This includes emails from friends and family.
Check with the sender first before opening anything.
You may get a random video from a friend in your direct message box, with a very generic message.
In most cases, the video contains a virus. Don’t play the video, and delete the message unread.
If you have played a video, immediately change your social media password and let your friends know you may have been hacked. Let the person who sent the video know they’ve also been hacked.
Downloaded software or files
Software, apps, video files, and other content that you download from the internet can contain viruses, malware, spyware, and other nasty things.
Only download software from reputable websites – ideally, the website of the company that creates and supports the software.
Use the official app store for your device: Apple App Store for iPhone and iPad; Google Play Store for Android devices.
What is e-safety or cyber-safety?
E-safety – electronic safety – means protecting everyone from harmful online content or activities. This can include things like cyber-bullying, stalking, harassment, trolling (posts designed to get an emotional response), abuse, or exploitation.
The best way to stay safe online is to remember that you have a right to feel private, safe and comfortable online.
If you are made to feel insecure, unsafe, uncomfortable, or upset online at any time, or if someone is using technology to harass or abuse you, turn off your computer or device and walk away. If you can, find a trusted person to talk to about what happened.
If you, or anyone you know, are feeling unsafe online, please call:
- Lifeline – 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800
- 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732)
If you, or anyone you know, feel in immediate danger from someone who knows your details, call 000.
The Australian Government has established the eSafety Commissioner to help all Australians have safer, more positive experiences online. They have a range of guides about all aspects of online knowledge and safety, including support, counselling, and reporting services.
There is advice for:
Reporting abuse and getting help
If it feels wrong, report it or ask for help. These services will believe and support you.
eSafety Commissioner: Report abuse
eSafety Commissioner: Report cyber abuse to social media services
Dolly’s Dream: Get help
eSafety Commissioner: Counselling and support services – a comprehensive list of services to listen and provide support.
Social media is the name for services that encourage real-time posting of content of all kinds. It includes services like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Snapchat, TikTok, and many more.
Many more sites and services have a social media aspect. For example, online games with a chat function, or the comments sections of news, information, and blog sites.
Social media can be an excellent way to keep in touch with family and friends, find out what’s happening, find new people and products, and promote your business or services.
However, its very anonymity means it can also be used to bully, stalk, harass, and be otherwise unpleasant to other people.
You have a certain amount of control over your own social media account – including shutting it down entirely.
These links may be helpful in understanding and effectively using social media.
- Be Connected: An introduction to social media
- eSafety Commissioner: eSafety Guide. Lists and discusses common social media services and apps.
- Lifewire: Tips and tricks for social media (covers the main social media services such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and so on).
- Lifewire: The Top Social Networking Sites People Are Using
Manage your safety online
Being the target of repeated bad online behaviour is not your fault. You do not have to take responsibility for how other people behave toward you.
You can, however, do a number of things to prevent and manage individual people’s actions toward you.
- Set your privacy levels as high as possible on social media accounts, so only the people you choose can see what you post.
- Where possible, delete the offensive or upsetting content.
- Block accounts that won’t leave you alone.
- Take screenshots of messages, behaviour or content that is causing you distress, and save them to an online place if you can. You can use them to report the behaviour to authorities, including police.
- Report harassing or bullying accounts to authorities.
- Talk to someone. There are many online and phone counselling services with caring people who will believe and support you.
- Shut it down and walk away. Take care of your own mental health by taking a break for as long as necessary. Find more private ways to keep in touch with the people you need to, such as secure text messaging services, where strangers can’t find you.
- eSafety Commissioner: Adult cyber abuse
- org: Advice for Adult Victims of Cyberbullying
- ReachOut: 5 strategies for dealing with cyberbullying
- How to take screenshots:
- eSafety Commissioner: Social media safety tips
- eSmart: Top 10 cyber safety tips
- Lifehacker: The Best Ways to Block Annoying People Around the Web
- eSafety Commissioner: Report social media abuse
- Open Colleges: CYBER SAFETY: An Interactive Guide To Staying Safe On The Internet
- PC Mag Australia: How to Report Abuse on Social Media
How to behave online
The internet is public. It remembers what’s been published. Your friends, family, employers, employees, children, parents, grandparents, fans and enemies are all there.
Every time you interact online, you all leave a digital footprint; what you say and do may be found for years, or even decades, to come.
Whatever you’re about to write, say, do, or display anything, think:
- Would I do this in a public crowd?
- Would I want someone else to record this and show a public crowd, now or in the future?
If the answer is “no”, then don’t do it
Helping other people
Model the behaviour you want to see online.
If you see anyone in trouble – for example, being bullied, harassed, stalked, or having material shared about them without their consent or knowledge:
- Report the content, or find someone to help you report it.
- If you have the ability to remove the content, do so. (For example, if you’re the admin or moderator of a social media group or forum).
- Don’t forward or share it.
- Don’t take part in it.
- Leave the group or conversation.
- Say something kind or positive to the person.
- If it’s safe, take a stand against it. Ask the bully to stop, and tell them their behaviour is not ok.
- Talk privately to the person being cyberbullied – are they okay, do they need help?
- Provide them with links and resources to report problems and get support.
Australian Human Rights Commission: Cyberbullying, Human rights and bystanders
Managing child safety online
Online children today are “digital natives”. They regard the internet “city” and all its abilities as the usual, everyday way of interacting with other people and information.
And just as you wouldn’t leave a child in the middle of a crowded city, you need to provide guided support for children to learn how to navigate the online environment.
Parental control tools
Parental controls are software tools that allow you to monitor and limit what your child sees and does online.
Parental controls can:
- Block your child from accessing certain websites, apps or functions (like using a device’s camera, or the ability to buy things).
- Filter different kinds of content — such as ‘adult’ or sexual content, content that may promote
- self-harm, eating disorders, violence, drugs, gambling, racism and terrorism.
- Allow you to monitor your child’s use of connected devices, with reports on the sites they visit and the apps they use, how often and for how long.
- Set time limits, blocking access after a set time.
Many of these tools are built-in to common devices.
- Parental controls on iPhone or iPad
- Tech Advisor: How to Use Android Parental Controls
- Parental controls on Windows
- Apple Families (parental controls and more – for Apple Mac computers)
Parental control software is not a substitute for open communication – the two work hand-in-hand. Have open (and ongoing) conversations with your children about the importance of responsible device usage.
- eSafety Commissioner: Taming the technology
- eSafety Parents: Online safety for parents and carers
- Australian Institute of Family Studies: Online safety
- PC Mag Australia: The Best Parental Control Software for 2021
- TechRadar: The best free parental control software and apps 2021: protect your kids online
- Install, sign up for, and use the apps, services and software children are using, including social media, online and offline games, any comments pages, music or video services, and school sites.
- Be aware of age restrictions on sites, forums, gaming sites, and websites.
- Take care when sharing images and stories of children on social media. Limit the audience for pictures of children, and avoid sharing pictures that show where you or your children live, work, play, go to school, shop, and so on.
- Find and friend your children on their social media – you don’t have to be super-busy and comment on everything they post, but make sure you can see their activity to head off potential problems.
- Talk with children about the reasons you need to monitor their social media use, and what you will be watching out for
- Discuss honouring their privacy, but watching out for any bad behaviour.
- Encourage children to discuss anything they find online that makes them uncomfortable, unhappy, or feel unsafe.
- Let them know of other trusted adults or authorities (for example, Kids Helpline) that they can talk to about these issues as well.
- Protect Young Eyes. A website that lists and reviews common apps.
- Facebook: Messenger Kids
- Rural Resources Online: Parenting & Social Media: Things You Can Do
- PC Mag Australia: The Best Parental Control Apps for Your Phone in 2021
- SkyMesh: 6 simple steps to help keep your kids safe online,
- Rebecca Sparrow: Before You Hit Send – social media tips for parents + tweens + teens
Managing online safety: schools, educators, and businesses
According to eSafety research, one in five young Australians aged 8 to 17 years reported being socially excluded, threatened or abused online.
A Psychology Today report suggests up to 15% of adults have experienced cyber-bullying in some form.
Schools and businesses have an important role to play to ensure that staff, students, and employees are safe from bullying behaviour.
This is especially relevant for boarding schools, home-schooling, and online school educators, where many rural, regional and remote students spend their school terms.
The following tips for schools and businesses may help students, staff, and business employees remain safe and happy.
- Clearly identify and teach everyone what “inappropriate online behaviour” actually is. This could be with regular workshops or training sessions.
- Create and enforce clear consequences for inappropriate online behaviour.
- Have very clear rules around the use of online resources, including social media, forums, blogs, and comment sections.
- Clearly and regularly communicate these to staff, students, parents, and employees.
- Consider bringing in cyber-safety experts to talk to staff, students, employees and parents.
- Where appropriate, consider rules around restricting the use of such resources during school or work hours.
- For educators, be aware of age restrictions on anywhere an account needs to be created (such as social media sites, forums, and the like).
- Identify cyber safety officer/s within staff – someone who can be approached – anonymously if need be – to get help with online issues. This could be combined with a workplace health and safety officer.
- Particularly for students, actively discourage use of “anonymous” apps – ones that require little or no registration to start using.
- Provide training for staff, employees, students, and parents on identifying dangerous and unsafe apps.
- Maintain ongoing dialogue with staff, employees, students, and parents around good and bad social media use.
- Have training and processes in place to identify and act on early signs of mental health issues among staff, employees, or students.
- Particularly for educators, learn about and make appropriate use of parental monitoring resources for computers and devices.
- eSafety Commissioner: Resources for educators.
- National Australia Bank: Building employee awareness of cyber safety
- Queensland Country Life: Boarding administrators continually training to manage bullying
Resources and further reading
Get help online
- Kids Helpline
- eheadspace provides free online and telephone support and counselling to young people 12 – 25 and their families and friends.
- Stymie: Report school or sports club bullying
- eSafety Commissioner: Report abuse
- eSafety Commissioner: Report cyber abuse to social media services
- Dolly’s Dream: Get help
- eSafety Commissioner: Counselling and support services