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Staying Safe Online is an Ongoing Process

Key takeaways from our cybersecurity workshop with Consumer Reports.

A father on his laptop sitting next to his son who is using a phone.

Keeping on top of your digital security isn't a one-time effort—it's an ongoing process. Taking the right steps to protect your personal data and devices can feel overwhelming, but there are easy ways to get started. At Common Sense, we're helping people build healthy cyber habits by pooling our resources with partners to give families as many tools as possible to protect their data privacy.

We recently held a workshop on enhancing online security and privacy with our friends at Consumer Reports. Here are three things we learned in that session about how to stay safe online.

Staying safe online starts with education

Kelly Mendoza, our vice president of education programs, opened the workshop and highlighted the importance of providing digital citizenship education in schools to give children, families, and schools the tools to make informed decisions about media and technology. Kelly said that teachers need more training on how to safely integrate technology into curricula, but everyone needs to better understand how protecting devices and personal data online can reduce cyber threats, like hacking. She also pointed out how state and federal lawmakers need to pass new laws to ensure a safer digital environment for our kids.

Tools exist to help us

Central to this workshop was the introduction of Security Planner, an innovative tool designed by Consumer Reports to provide customized action plans for safer online experiences. You can try it out yourself.

Security Planner offers a unique approach to online safety. It provides personalized recommendations based on user responses to specific questions. You don't need to be a Consumer Reports member to use the Security Planner, and you don't need to input any personally identifiable data. The tool works by asking the user a series of questions. Depending on the answer, it will create a personalized set of recommendations to improve your digital privacy. The tool serves as a dynamic checklist, adapting to new threats and personal circumstances over time.

Examples of trouble spots are everywhere

The team at Consumer Reports used three case studies to walk through digital privacy scenarios that many people have encountered:

  • One example was online harassment, which is all too common and very disturbing. You can reduce online harassment by regularly updating your privacy settings and being mindful of what you share online.
  • Gift card scams are another common threat. It is vital to report phishing emails to companies and banks you deal with, and to change any passwords that have been compromised. Other ways to reduce cyber threats include using multifactor authentication and keeping a critical eye on your online interactions.
  • Lastly, the workshop highlighted the importance of VPNs (virtual private networks) to protect your information, as well as setting up password managers (like LastPass or others), deleting old email accounts, and securing smart devices.

Digital safety is a big job, but each of us can play an important role. We're committed to making the digital space safer for everyone. We'll keep pushing companies and governments to do a better job, and continue to partner with Consumer Reports and many other groups, including Craig Newmark Philanthropies, that are working together to educate kids, families, and all consumers about how to be safer online.

Visit our resource page to learn more, and let us know if you have your own tips for reducing online threats to you and your family.

Elizabeth Foley

Liz Foley is the senior director of advocacy campaigns at Common Sense Media. She oversees Common Sense's digital mobilization efforts and works to get parents, educators, and others engaged in the organization's advocacy campaigns. Prior to joining Common Sense, Liz worked at Consumer Reports, where she managed their campaign and grassroots work for 16 years.