February 9 means different things to different people. For the people of New Orleans this year, its Mardi Gras, but to web citizens in 2016, it’s Safer Internet Day, so how can you participate?

One way to get involved with Safer Internet Day is to be aware of the device you have and how they play a part in your life.

We all have technology, and if you’re reading this website, there’s a good chance you’re doing it on something you frequently use, be it a smartphone, tablet, or a laptop or desktop computer.

Given that technology is part of your life, it can be helpful to take stock of your digital reliance and realise that any device you own can be held hostage, especially now that malware and ransomware can take over.

These areas tend to play on computers more often than any other area, but smartphones are beginning to get affected, with ransomware locking down a part of your device and forcing you to pay a ransom in order to unlock the files, preying on the likelihood that you haven’t backed up in a while.

Emails can spread these dangerous files and exploits, but so too can social media, so always be careful of what you’re clicking on.

Security exploits like ransomware tend to occur because so many of us don’t have a form of security on our device, and when you take into consideration that cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated in how they attack, this can spell disaster for online citizens.

So what can you do?

security-keyboard

Having a form of security software on a device certainly helps, but it’s not the be-all end-all, and Symantec, makers of Norton 360, recommends to not only to know what you’re sharing, but also to be careful online.

“Don’t click links in unsolicited email or social media messages, particularly from unknown sources,” said Mark Gorrie, Norton Security Expert. “Scammers know people are more likely to click on links from their friends, so they compromise accounts to send malicious links to the account owner’s contacts.”

Being aware of what you’re being sent is one part of the education, and that’s an on-going lesson you need to be vigilant in, but one thing you can do to feel like you’re doing something on Safer Internet Day is checking your passwords.

Yes, that old chestnut, because as much as a pain in the proverbial as the humble password is, if you don’t use strong passwords, there’s more a chance that they could be broken open later on.

We shouldn’t have to tell you not to print these passwords out and attach them your computer in the form of a sticker — the people who do that, you know who you are — but if you’re struggling to remember a password, trying coming up with a common phrase you can’t forget and attaching a form of punctuation and a letter code for the website, or replacing letters with numbers to shake things up.

If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, it might be the phrase “to be or not to be” that gets translated into “ToBe0rNot!” with the zero for the “O” in “or” and a code for the website you’re visiting. Facebook might be “ToBe0rNot!FB!” while Gmail could be “ToBe0rNot!gmail!”, providing a slightly different password for each website and meaning that if one were compromised, the others should theoretically be safe.

We’re not alone in suggesting strong passwords, either, but Symantec advises it.

“This cannot be emphasised enough,” said Gorrie. “Use strong and unique passwords for your accounts and devices, and update them on a regular basis, ideally every three months.”

As an aside, February 9 is also World Pancake Day, so if you have changed a whole heap of passwords, go make yourself some pancakes. You deserve it.