At school children begin to learn how to read, write and navigate their way around a computer from when they’re three or four years old. This is a 21st century education. There’s no denying that computer skills are now an integral part of the school system, and subsequently, a vital life skill. However, many people are still oblivious to the risks which the internet can pose.
The internet is a largely faceless realm where people can take on any form behind the mask of a website or email address. There is a huge element of trust involved in internet interaction. People trust that their personal information and account details are going to be held in a safe and private database behind a firewall of antivirus security. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen.
The amount of crime online is on the rise. And it’s no longer about just safeguarding your computer. The wide array of web accessible devices available on the market means that you have to protect your computer, smartphone and tablet amongst others.
A survey last year found that more than half of the cyber population had been targeted by cyber criminals through online scams and spear-phishing tactics. This highlights the need for individuals to be assertive and take responsibility for the protection of their private devices. Installing high quality computer or mobile antivirus software is a necessary measure.
Measures need to be continually updated and new ones need to be implemented to ensure the country’s national cyber-security is as strong as it possibly can be. Any hole in the firewall could be a crack for a serious cyber-attack to break through.
Think before you click
Change your Internet habits when you surf—always think before you click. It’s one of the best ways to protect yourself online. Don’t click links in emails, Instant Messages (IMs), and pop-up advertisements. Be cautious about clicking links and downloading from people’s social networking site profiles. And download free stuff only from sites you know and trust—so think twice about peer-to-peer (P2P) filesharing networks! Also, never install any software without knowing exactly what it does. You could end up with spyware, adware, or worse!
Make better passwords
If you’re like most people, your password is just something easy to remember like your pet’s name or favorite sports team, and then maybe a number. And you use the same password for everything. But criminals have many ways of getting your password, and making it super easy for them to guess or crack just isn’t smart.
Use a password manager.
In general, it’s not a good idea to say “yes” when your browser asks you if you’d like it to save your password, especially when the computer you are using is shared. Although it’s convenient, allowing your Internet browser to store your password can leave you vulnerable to criminals. For example, some computer viruses can recover your passwords from your Internet browser and then email them to random people or post them publicly on the Internet. But it is hard to remember a different password for every Web site you visit.
A better option is to use a password manager. There are several out there, but if you use the Firefox Web browser, you can set a super-secret “master” password for all your other passwords. That way, you don’t have to remember them all—just one. You’ll just need to be sure you remember your master password—and never, ever, ever share it with anyone!
Don’t share passwords with anyone, ever. Even family.
If you need someone to read your email, many email programs allow you use a “delegates” feature to enable certain persons do so without using your password. Check with your email provider. Some types of exploits aren’t possible if the bad guy can’t guess the password. So, you should learn what makes a good password, create ones you can remember, and change your passwords if you think they might have been compromised.
Keep your application software and operating system up-to-date
The mummy lives! If the software on your computer is old enough to live in a sarcophagus, it’s time to make a change. That’s because the older a program gets, the more opportunities hackers have to find the security holes in it. So if the application software on your computer (Internet browser, word processor, graphics software, even your anti-virus program) is more than a few months old, check out the vendor’s Website for upgrades or patches that can make the program safer to use. And keep checking back periodically! Holes in such programs can be exploited by hackers and your whole computer could be compromised. Do the same for your operating system (OS), the program on your computer—such as Windows XP, Mac OS X, or Linux—that runs all the other programs. Keeping your OS up-to-date is absolutely critical for safe computing. Think that your OS is already current? Don’t be so sure. Microsoft and Apple have both released critical security patches quite recently! So, be sure your computer is configured to automatically update its OS, so you don’t have to remember to keep checking.
Use anti-spyware and adware programs
When you download and install software onto your computer, other applications may creep into your system as add-ons, without your knowledge. Like viruses, these adware and spyware programs can sneak onto your hard drive with little or no warning, and hide their tracks in ways that make it difficult for even the most sophisticated computer users to find and delete permanently. Gather enough of these unwanted add-ons, and they will slow down your computer significantly. What’s more, these intrusive applications can invade your privacy by sending information about you to strangers. They can even render your computer vulnerable to attack. So, get and use at least two malware removal tools regularly.
Run those scans.
Make sure you configure your anti-virus program to check for updates daily and run complete scans of your hard drive weekly. Also, schedule your anti-spyware software to run scans every week. Then, if a scan finds infected or suspicious files, you will have to review the results and decide what to do with the identified files. You may opt to ignore, remove, or quarantine them. But such regular maintenance is essential for privacy protection and better computer performance. Yes, it’s a pain to have to do this all the time, but at least you can set your scans to run automatically!
Back up your files regularly
No, it’s not fun or exciting. But if you get a virus or other electronic infection and your system crashes or has to be wiped clean, you’ll be so glad you did. Make copies of essential documents, photos, music files—anything you would be distraught to lose. You can use a variety of media—CDs, DVDs, thumb drives or “memory keys,” external hard drives, a server or Internet site that allows you to store documents, etc. Also, be sure to keep any software CDs that came with your computer, in case your hard drive is ever wiped clean and you have to reinstall everything from scratch. If your hard disk fails—and if you use it long enough, eventually it will—you’ll need those backups!
Update your anti-virus software often
You are not just protecting yourself when using virus software, but also others you communicate with. So, if you’ve let that anti-virus subscription lapse, you should renew it—today! You can get anti-virus software at low or not cost from many sources. Also, many people don’t realize that there is a proper way to use an anti-virus program. Just having anti-virus software loaded on your computer is not enough. You must keep the software up-to-date by running virus scans weekly, renewing your virus definitions file daily, and quarantining files as needed. If that sounds like a lot, don’t panic: most modern anti-virus software allows you to automate most of the work. Remember, new computer viruses show up all the time, and your anti-virus protection is only as good as your last update!
Use a firewall
You can use a hardware or software firewall, or both. The hardware kind are external devices that can be bought at most electronic stores for less than $100. Also, many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer routers that also include firewall features. (Check with your provider to find out about yours). In addition, most operating systems (such as Windows XP, Mac OS X, or Linux) include a built-in software firewall. If yours does, activate it to add another layer of protection—even if you have an external hardware firewall. Firewalls protect you from all sorts of intruders and attacks.
Take precautions when using wireless Internet
If you don’t think twice about jumping onto whatever inexpensive or free wireless network is available—in airports, bookstores, and coffee shops, or even mooching off a neighbor at home—consider this: if it’s an “Unsecured Wireless Network,” it’s just as easy for a criminal to get on it as it is for you! Unsecured wireless isn’t encrypted, so scammers could easily be logging the sensitive information you send over the network, such as logins, passwords, or credit card numbers. Plus, in a public place, someone could also “shoulder surf,” watching over your shoulder as you type. So, avoid conducting your private business on public wireless!
Don’t leave your valuables unattended
Yes, it may go without saying, but guard your valuables—both the tangible (like your purse, wallet, picture ID, and credit and debit cards) and intangible (like contact information, Social Security number, and birthdate).
Carry only the identification information and the credit and debit cards that you’ll actually need when you go out. Be cautious when responding to promotions, giveaways, and sweepstakes. Identity thieves may create phony promotional offers or steal your valid entry form to get your personal information. Keep your purse or wallet in a safe place at work.
Read the license agreement
Read through the end user license agreement before clicking “I Accept” and installing unfamiliar software. Yes, it’s a pain…all that fine print! But…if you don’t, you may be sorry. By law, companies have to disclose what they’ll do with your private information (if they share it at all, you may start receiving a lot of spam, for example); what other software they may be packaging with your download (beware—many times what’s packaged with it is essentially spyware!); and any hidden fees or costs. And if you can’t find or can’t understand the license agreement, think twice before proceeding: the program’s creator may be trying to hide something from you.
Beware of phishing—and vishing
In the latest twist on phishing scams, criminals are now “vishing,” too. In a vishing scam, a crook sends fraudulent email or leaves you a fraudulent voicemail message asking you to call a telephone number to “confirm” your personal information. This type of scam still employs the usual false sense of urgency and often implies there might be an identity theft situation, encouraging recipients to call right away “to get everything all straightened out.” The phone number typically provided looks legitimate, too—either a 1-800 number or a number with a local area code. The recipient, who may have heard about phishing scams and knows better than to click a dubious link in an email, feels more comfortable talking on the phone to “a real person.” That sounds so much more legit… If you get a message like this, call the organization directly—don’t use the number provided to you in the voicemail or email.
Watch out for spam—and spim
Email isn’t the only thing that can bring you a phishing scams, viruses, spyware, or other electronic infections. Unsolicited email messages (known as spam) have a close cousin—unsolicited Instant Messages (IMs), or “spim.” So just as you should never click on links in emails, even when they appear legitimate, you should also avoid clicking on links in IMs you weren’t expecting. Those, too, could be phishing scams, or could give you a virus or spyware—or worse! To avoid getting spammed and spimmed in the first place, closely guard your IM screen name and your email address. Treat them as personal, confidential information that you wouldn’t give out to just anyone.
Know what to look for when shopping online
Online shopping is great. But protect yourself by always checking for three things on the checkout or order page:
- First, the “plural URL.” The site’s checkout page should have an “https” instead of “http” at the beginning of the Web address.
- Second, a closed padlock or unbroken key. One of these should appear in the bottom or top window frame of your browser, letting you know your personal information will be encrypted.
- Third, the Web address generally. If the URL changes from what you would expect in the course of your transaction, log out immediately and shop elsewhere.
Don’t use your computer for a night light
Turn off your computer or disconnect from the network when you’re not using it. Every minute your computer is connected to the Internet, either through broadband (DSL or cable) or a dial-up or connection, it’s at risk. In fact, if you’re using broadband, you face a greater threat than if you used dial-up, since you are continually connected to the Internet. With an “always on” connection, such as cable or DSL, your computer may be vulnerable even when you think you’re no longer connected to the network. Bottom line: use a firewall anytime you’re online, and disconnect from the network or power off your computer anytime you’re not.
Protect your private information on paper, too
To thwart an identity thief who may pick through your trash or recycling bin to capture your personal information, burn, tear, or shred receipts, insurance forms, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards, and all those pesky credit card offers you get in the mail. For even greater security, you can opt out of receiving such offers in the first place. Just call 1-888-5-OPTOUT. Note that you will be asked to provide your Social Security number when you call.
Be cautious about revealing your personal information on the Internet
Before you share your contact information, daily routine, and personal attributes on your blog or on popular social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, Flickr, Blogspot, and Xanga, stop and think. You could be putting your safety— and your future—at risk. Never forget: the words and pictures you post on the Internet may be available for years. Your profile may be viewed not only by your friends, but also by identity thieves, spammers, and stalkers—as well as future employers and school admissions counselors. You don’t need to advertise to the world what you’re doing or where you live. And once you publish something online, it is available to other people and to search engines. You can’t retract it!