Google joins forces with Which? to launch a new online safety course

Elijah Lawal, Google's communications manager for the UK and Ireland.
Elijah Lawal, Google's communications manager for the UK and Ireland.

GOOGLE has expanded its inventory of initiatives to boost the UK’s digital skill levels by teaming up with consumer body Which? to launch a new course in online safety.

The course is currently available in one-off, hour-long sessions, free of charge to anyone who uses Google’s Digital Garage training centre in Sheffield, but the company has said it will make it available to all online “very soon”.

Speaking about the partnership, Google’s communications manager for the UK and Ireland, Elijah Lawal, said: “It seemed like a perfectly natural fit and gives us that extra bit of credibility.

“Which? gives sound advice which is completely independent of our products. So it’s not as though we’re saying ‘here’s how you can stay safe when you’re using Google products’; we’re saying ‘here’s how you can stay safe online, no matter what you’re using’.”

The Stay Safe Online 2017 course is designed to help people use the internet safely and with confidence at a time when cyber-security has become a hot issue.

Recent global malware attacks have collectively cost businesses, organisations and individuals around the world billions of pounds, and more are expected as cybercriminals find further weaknesses to exploit for profit.

Yet levels of preparedness for this new world of online crime are low.

Recent research by Capgemini discovered that just 21 per cent of banking and insurance executives were “highly confident” that their organisations could detect a breach. Among the public, nearly a quarter of social media users never update their privacy settings, and 58 per cent admit they don’t know how to.

“Our focus on online safety is incredibly important, but one which a lot of individuals and businesses think about least,” says Mr Lawal.

“People just don’t realise how much information they have online, but that digital footprint is as important as your activity in your real life. Just as you should be careful about your physical safety, you should be very careful about protecting yourself online.”

According to Mr Lawal, the biggest threats online come from phishing attacks, ransomware and spyware, and the scammers are getting more sophisticated.

“A few years ago, you used to get people posing as foreign princes who needed to get some money out of their country and just needed some from you to make it happen. You’d be hard-pressed to find many people who would fall for that now,” he says.

“These days, you’re more likely to receive an email telling you that suspicious activity has been detected on your account and asking you to log in and verify your details via the link provided, which then takes you to a very familiar-looking, but fake, website – and they’ve got you!”

Aside from general vigilance, there are a few easy measures to take to avoid becoming a victim.

“Passwords are a funny thing – they are the key to your online world,” says Mr Lawal.

“A lot of people have the same password for different accounts, but although having different passwords can be a hassle, it is worth it.

You wouldn’t have just one key for your car, house and everything else.”

Other common mistakes include not updating software, and failing to review security settings.

“I would review them at least once a week,” says Mr Lawal. “Also, check your browser activity to make sure it matches up with your known activity.

“Updating your software is incredibly important too. You might have the most modern, up-to-date system today, but by tomorrow the bad guys might have found a vulnerability in it.”

Although Google’s Digital Garage has broadened its range of services to include more inexperienced web-users, it stresses that its Stay Safe Online 2017 course is not just for digital novices, because they are not the only ones at risk.

“It’s easy to generalise and say that less digitally experienced or older people are more vulnerable, but it’s important to remember that it’s human beings who are the weakest link in the chain,” says Mr Lawal.

“You can have the best lock on your door, but if you leave the key in the lock you’ll make it very easy for the burglars.”

The internet revolution has created a host of new phrases.

Here’s a guide to some of the most common:

Phishing: an attempt to get hold of your personal details by posing as a legitimate business and inviting you to give up personal details.

Ransomware: shuts down your computer or smartphone until you pay a fee.

Spyware: sits in your machine, accessing your personal details.

Digital Garage: Google’s digital training centre in Sheffield which offers a wide range of courses free of charge and is designed to help

plug the UK’s digital skills gap.

Stay Safe Online 2017: a course designed by Google and Which? to help people use the internet safely and with confidence; soon to be available online

Paula Dillon, President of Leeds Chamber Commerce.

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