This is a quick walk-through on how to be safe when you are online. This is not a definitive list nor does it guarantee of safety; you are responsible for what you do online, where you browse and what you click on while you’re there. Keep in mind that everyone does things differently and have their own opinions on how to do things. If someone tells you different, it does not make them wrong or right nor does it make us right or wrong.
Just keep in mind to use common sense when online; if you have to second guess something, don’t do it or ask someone that would know. This list is not detailed or complete, is not the only way nor is it OS specific.
1. KEEP YOUR OS UPDATED
I have seen this time and again in most cases where people get in trouble, especially if you’re using Windows. Bugs and flaws can allow someone with a malicious mind to compromise your computer, by running keeping you machine updated you ensure that your system is safe from malware and cyber attacks.
The majority of viruses spread through software that exploit the vulnerabilities on your OS that have not been patched by updates.
2. DON’T USE INTERNET EXPLORER
We may take a beating for this one but the truth hurts. ActiveX and IE is so enrolled in Windows the is has way too much power should it ever be exploited. What is AciveX you ask? They are little bits and pieces of programs that run in your browser, while these may be awesome for business intranet software, for home use it is not and pose serious risks.
We highly recommend Firefox or Chrome, personally we chose Firefox for the plugins and features we prefer while browsing. Check our wiki page for our list of Firefox Plugins. We’ll be adding a page for Chrome plugins soon.
3. ANTI-VIRUS, ANTI-VIRUS, ANTI-VIRUS
We can’t stress this one enough. While this may seem like a no-brainer, we’ve seen many cases where people simply go fully in the nude while browsing or have an anti-virus but have not updated it in years. While you may use the best of common sense, keep your system up to date and use Firefox or Chrome, you WILL run into a virus at one time or another and guess what your only line of defense will be then? Your Anti-Virus software. This means that if you have none or don’t keep it updated, you just got hit and you are infected. You may get a mild virus that can be wiped, you may also get a virus that to remove it you will have to format your drive and reinstall everything and you may loose all your stuff in the process.
DO you understand how IMPORTANT this piece of advice is? And PLEASE, don’t let anyone tell you Macs don’t get viruses, this is crack-pot advice; they do and the only reason it is not as known as with Windows is because of the user ratio. More people use Windows and use it in risky conditions so it is more common in that area. We have seen Macs that have been infected and compromised. This is something not many want to worry about but when you need it you’ll be happy you have one. Our favorite Anti-virus? Avast. It is free and VERY reliable and there is a paid version that has more features.
Together with a good antivirus software you should have anti-spyware installed on your system. This piece of software scans your machine for and removes spyware. What is spyware? They are small programs installed on your computer to track and collect data about you and your browsing habits so that advertisements can be served to you. Spyware collects personal information if possible as well as changes the configuration of your computer; ever notice how ads tend to target your likes and such?
Most of the times these bugs get on your computer by your consent and you don;t even realize you accepted them. Anti-spyware scans your computer for anything that matches known spyware so they can be removed. Our favorite Anti-spyware? Avast by Lavasoft, there is a free for personal use and a paid version. Same as with your Anti-virus software, you MUST keep your Anti-spyware updated. We recommend scanning your computer at minimum once a week.
5. EMAIL & SPAM
Email has become the main means of communication these days and with it came spam, viruses and other harmful things that can be attached to a message as well as phishing scams and other such tactics. There are basic guidelines to follow when using email to make sure you are getting the best experience on the safety side. The main rule to remember is DON’T EVER open attachments from anyone you don’t know. PERIOD. Videos, pictures and other file attachments can contain hidden viruses, spy-ware and other such things. DON’T EVER open attachments from people you know if you are not expecting them This may sound silly to you as your friends wouldn’t send you a virus; but think of this scenario… Your friend’s computer is compromised and that virus on his computer replicates itself and sent you a copy in an attachment so it can infect your computer and spread to your contacts. See how it works?
Our suggestion? Setup a system with contacts you regularly email that will let you know when an attachment is genuine or not. Set your Anti-virus to scan downloaded attachments, Avast is very good at this and even scans files you are downloading via your browser.
When dealing with SPAM, please … NEVER EVER click the lick below the message to remove your name from the mailing list. Doing so confirms your address is a valid one and you will receive much more spam. Solution, tag the message as spam and delete it. Depending on which email service you use you may have other options, but that is another topic altogether. And then you have PHISHING scams, this is a new scheme where the sender tries to get you to give them the data they need about yourself. These are emails that seem to be from legitimate companies you may deal with and will ask for passwords, usernames, account or credit card numbers, pin numbers and such. A legitimate company will NEVER EVER ask you for any of that information via email if at all.
- Use and maintain antivirus software.
- Keep your operating system patches up-to-date.
- Always use strong passwords—a combination of characters, numbers and letters. Make sure you have separate passwords for each account you have—and don’t share them.
- Do not visit untrusted websites or follow links provided by unknown or untrusted sources.
- Be careful what personal information you distribute, particularly on social networking sites.
- Teach children not to post or share personal information such as their photograph, address, age or activity schedule. Teach them not to respond to cyberbullies. Report incidents of cyberbullying to school administrators and local law enforcement when appropriate.
By employing some of these basic practices, we can protect ourselves and improve our chances of NOT becoming the next victim of an online scam or attack. Make sure you are doing your part to stay safe online.
How do you deal with these issues? Have something to add? Drop us a comment below and share your thoughts.