Protect Yourself: A Comprehensive Internet Safety Guide for Women and Girls
The internet has revolutionized the way we communicate, learn, and work. However, it can also be a dangerous place, particularly for women and girls.
According to Pew Research Center, online harassment is on the rise. 38% of women have experienced online harassment, and 13% have been the target of cyberstalking.
We’ve covered many topics related to cybersecurity before, from protecting your personal information online to identifying phishing attempts.
However, to fight against violence towards women online and gender-based cybercrime, we’ve also put together an internet safety guide for women and girls. That way, women can feel empowered and browse the internet without fear.
How Women & Girls Can Stay Safe on Social Media
Social media is great for keeping in touch with friends, but also ripe with cyberbullying and harassment. For example, Refuge reports that more than one in three UK women have experienced online abuse while using social media.
Luckily, there are many steps women can take to stay extra safe on social media.
Adjust Your Privacy Settings
Make sure that your privacy settings are set to limit who can see your posts and information. For example, you can review tags on Facebook before they appear on your timeline.
All your social media accounts should be protected with a strong password. You could also set up multi-factor authentication to take it a step further. That way, nobody but you can log into your account, even if someone gets access to your password or device.
Additionally, only accept friend requests from people you know. By accepting requests from strangers, you can provide them with access to your photos, location, and personal details.
Avoid Sharing Personal information on Your Profile
Be careful about what you share on social media, specifically personal information such as your location, home address, phone number, or contact information.
Cybercriminals can use your personal information to target you, a cyberattack known as spear phishing. Using your personal information as their arsenal, their emails seem more legitimate and create an extra sense of urgency.
Report Cyberbullying & Harassment
If you experience cyberbullying or harassment on social media, immediately report it to the platform and block the offender.
Report Fake Accounts
Social media is swarming with fake accounts and bots. For example, Instagram has 95 million fake accounts, while Twitter removes over 310 million bots yearly.
Fake accounts can be used for spamming, phishing, or impersonating someone else. Reporting a fake account helps social media platforms identify and remove the threat, which can protect other users from potentially harmful or misleading content.
Have a Private & Public Account
Are you trying to build your personal brand and gain followers? That’s great! But sometimes, it’s hard to figure out what to share with the world and what should stay private.
Here’s a fun tip – consider creating two separate accounts on social media. One can be public, where you share your content and thoughts with the world, and the other can be private, where you hang out with your closest friends and family.
This way, you can keep your personal life separate from your public persona and avoid oversharing with people you don’t know well. So go ahead and make that private account.
Don’t Geotag & Share Your Location
Women and girls should be cautious when using geotags on social media. Geotags can reveal your location, which may risk your privacy and safety.
If you share your location on social media, it can give others information about your whereabouts. That could make it easier for someone to track you down. This is especially true if you share your location frequently or with strangers.
On the other hand, using geotags can also be fun and useful for connecting with others with similar interests or hobbies. So, if you do choose to use geotags, be aware of the potential risks and take steps to protect your privacy and safety. For example, you can select which locations you share and who can see your posts.
Protecting Yourself from Cyberstalking
Cyberstalking refers to using the internet to harass, intimidate, or threaten someone. It can take many forms, including sending unwanted messages, posting personal information or explicit images of the victim online and tracking their online activities. Cyberstalking can also involve physical stalking or harassment, such as showing up at the victim’s home or workplace.
This can cause significant distress and fear for the victim and have long-term psychological and emotional effects. Cyberstalking victims should document and report the incidents to the relevant authorities and take steps to protect their online privacy and security. This includes blocking or reporting the perpetrator and changing passwords.
How to Fight Against Hacking and Doxxing
Hacking and doxxing are two other online threats that can particularly harm women. Hacking means gaining unauthorized access to a computer or network, while doxxing involves publishing someone’s personal information online.
To protect yourself from hacking and doxxing, take the following steps:
- Use strong passwords and two-factor authentication: Strong passwords and two-factor authentication can help protect your accounts from hacking attempts.
- Be careful when clicking on links or downloading files: Don’t click on links or download files from unknown sources because they can contain malware, such as spyware. Use anti-virus software and keep it updated to protect yourself from viruses and other malicious software.
- Know what to do if you’ve been hacked or doxxed: Act quickly. Change your passwords, contact your financial institutions, and consider getting a credit freeze to prevent someone from opening new accounts in your name.
Looking to check if your email or phone number has been compromised in a data breach? You can head over to Have I Been Pwned, a helpful website that can quickly scan and identify any compromised accounts associated with your personal information.
Another good tip is to Google yourself from time to time. That way, you can see what information about you is available online and delete it if necessary.
Using VPNs for Online Privacy and Security
A virtual private network (VPN) is a tool that can help protect your online privacy and security. Utilizing a VPN shields your online activity from being tracked or accessed by third parties like hackers, ISPs, or governmental organizations by encrypting your internet traffic.
Your data is routed through a secure server when you connect to the internet using a VPN, making it harder for others to see what you are doing online.
To stay safe online, enable the VPN on all devices that you use to connect to the internet, including your computer, tablet, and smartphone. Additionally, use a VPN when using public WiFi. Public WiFi networks are often unsecured, making your data vulnerable to hackers.
How Women Can Protect Themselves Against Online Sexual Exploitation
One particularly concerning issue for women and girls is the online sexual exploitation of women, which can take many forms, including sextortion, sexpreading, revenge porn, and coercive texting. This section of the guide defines these terms and provides tips for women to protect themselves.
Sextortion refers to threatening to share explicit images or videos of someone unless they comply with the perpetrator’s demands. This can include demands for more explicit material, money, or other forms of coercion. Sexpreading, on the other hand, involves sharing explicit material without the subject’s consent, often to shame or humiliate them.
Revenge porn is another form of sexual exploitation that involves sharing explicit images or videos of someone without their consent, often after a relationship has ended. Revenge Porn Helpline reports that this cybercrime has risen by 40% between 2020 and 2021, and 90% of victims are women.
Coercive sexting, which involves pressuring someone into sending explicit images or engaging in sexual activity via text messages, is prevalent among teenagers, and it’s also a common tactic in intimate partner abuse. The scope of the problem is staggering. In 2022 alone, there were over 7,000 reports of sextortion in the United States. This is likely just the tip of the iceberg because many victims are too afraid or ashamed to come forward.
So, what can women do to protect themselves? Here are some tips:
- Be cautious when sharing images online. That includes sending pictures through messaging apps. Once something is on the internet, it can be difficult to remove.
- Don’t expose your identity in intimate pictures. Don’t show your face or recognizable features if you take intimate pictures.
- Use multi-factor identification. Don’t let anyone access your social media platforms or messaging apps.
- Trust your gut. If someone makes you uncomfortable, it’s best to cut off contact.
- Don’t engage with or respond to threatening messages. Block the sender and report the incident to the social media platform and authorities.
- Report online sexual exploitation to your local authorities and the FBI.
- Seek support from friends, family, or professionals if you have experienced sexual exploitation online.
Internet Safety Guide for Women & Girls: Recap
In conclusion, staying safe online is essential, particularly for women and girls. Following the tips in this internet safety guide, you can protect your personal information, avoid cyberbullying and harassment, and stay safe from online threats such as hacking and doxxing. Additionally, a VPN can provide an extra layer of security and help keep your online activity private.
Here are the main takeaways from this online safety guide:
- Adjust your privacy settings and avoid sharing personal information on your social media profile.
- Report cyberbullying, harassment, and fake accounts to the social media platform and block the offender.
- Consider creating two separate accounts on social media, one for your public persona and one for your private life.
- Be cautious when using geotags on social media.
- Document and report cyberstalking incidents to the relevant authorities and take steps to protect your online privacy and security.
- Use strong passwords, two-factor authentication, and anti-virus software to protect yourself from hacking and doxxing.
- Use a reputable VPN provider and enable it on all devices, particularly when using public WiFi.
- Be cautious when sharing images online, and don’t expose your identity in intimate pictures.
- Don’t engage with or respond to threatening messages and report online sexual exploitation to the authorities.
- Seek support from friends, family, or professionals if you have experienced sexual exploitation online.
Remember, your safety online is just as important as your safety in the physical world. And you deserve to feel safe in both! By taking the precautions outlined in this guide, you can help protect yourself and your personal information while enjoying the many benefits of the online world.