How to Stay Safe Online – Tips for Regular Folks

October 2, 2017  |  Javvad Malik

We’re celebrating National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM) with a weekly series of security articles on how to improve the state of cyber security-ness.

Staying safe online has many similarities with staying safe on the line, aka tightrope walking. It involves a delicate mix of courage, foolhardiness, balance, poise, and the threat of falling to a horrible death.

There are many lists that detail the extensive do’s and don’ts on staying safe online, so I won’t repeat them. Rather, I’ve distilled what I believe to be the most important information as captured through events and conversations in my daily life.

If it’s too good to be true

Most of the time, my children make a mess in their room and despite repeated requests, I end up having to do most of the cleaning myself.

One weekend, I made a deal with them, that if they cleaned their rooms properly, I’d give them each five pounds, take them to a movie, pizza, let them have sweets and stay up late.

After an hour, their rooms looked cleaner than they had ever been.

I didn’t deliver the goods. I laughed at them and told them that if something sounds too good to be true it usually is.

This is good parenting, as it demonstrated to them that they are perfectly capable of cleaning their room, and that they should be careful as to what they believe in real life, or online and are less likely to click on a link in an email or pop-up.

Keeping software up to date

My daughter wanted a cat. Despite being allergic to cats, I agreed on the condition that I would buy the cat, but would not spend any money on buying it any cat food.

“You’re so cruel! The cat would get weak and die.” Said my daughter.

Operating systems, browsers, security software, and apps, like cats, need to be kept up to date and ‘fed’ the latest updates and patches. Neglecting to do so can cause them to grow frail and eventually die, possibly taking your business with them.

I hope my daughter remembers this lesson when she grows up, once she gets over not having a cat.


While watching Superman with my older son, he said that he wished Superman was his dad - that way he would be strong, and could fly, and have lasers shoot from his eyes. I flexed my arm, pointed to my bicep and told him that “dad is strong”, to which he merely replied, “but you’re not Superman.”

In my mind, I immediately scrapped plans to pay for his education or buy him a nice car. It kind of works out for the best because it means I will be able to spend all that extra money on my younger son.

This is why backups are important, because you never know when the first one will fail you.


One day I decided it would be easier if I called my wife and four children all “Bob”. It was the ultimate in convenience. If I needed something I only needed to ask for Bob. Birthday cards could be recycled. I could even get bulk discounts on items such as personalised keyrings.

The day started off well, I asked Bob if she wanted a cup of tea and yelled at Bob for being late for school.

Bob was very confused about this and asked what was going on. But I didn’t have time to explain because Bob needed his feed.

In the end, all the Bob’s had enough and stopped talking to me saying using the same name for everyone was a stupid idea.

A bit like reusing the same password I guess.


While on holiday, a friend posted a few family photos on Facebook that not only included my children, but caught me before I had a chance to suck my gut in and smile properly. As a result, I came across looking like a constipated Jabba the Hut.

Wanting to avoid direct conflict, I thought the best way to make my point to him was to sneak into his room one night, take a short video of him while he was sleeping in disarray and snoring loudly, and posted it on Facebook.

The disadvantage of this approach is that I’m now I’m avoiding him and too scared to confront him directly. However, he will think twice before sharing things on social media from now on; so, from an educational point, I’ll chalk this one up as a win.

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