10 Steps to Safe Internet Use

You can get yourself into a lot of trulysecuretrouble with remarkable ease on the internet. Even just being on it when something “more important needs doing” will get you a clip round the ears, as will this sentence. But even when things are cool on the home front and she’s lost in Facebook, you still have to play smart. Let me illustrate.

Imagine pushing yourself through a crowd. Within that crowd are a 1000 glazed doughnut types, head colds, dripping noses, you know the type. Did I mention too;  they’ve all been paid 100 bucks to find you and infect you?  If you don’t know where they are, how likely is it you’re going to brush up against more than one and come down with the plague?

Well the internet is like a massive crowd, most are alright, but like the illustration above, there are less than pleasant individuals pushing through the same crowd trying to intercept you. What are the dangers and how can you protect yourself, your family and most importantly your computer? (Kidding)

virusThe obvious threat is a computer virus; which is like your computer getting a cold but worse. Some viruses are simply annoying like being forced to listen to a John Farnham song they might pop up pesky messages nettling you at the wrong time. Others are way more dangerous like being tortured with a Bieber song, internally hemorrhaging, and praying for deafness. Some viruses will not just delete important folders, they can damage your hardware like dear old Justin can damage your hearing, intelligence and social status!

Often mistaken for viruses and way more common is malware. Malware is malicious software. It’s up to no good like a bishop in a boys school, and will usually allocate your system’s resources to someone somewhere else. Similar but less innocuous is adware, short for advertisement software. As the name suggests, it’s trying to sell you something; usually a male ‘enhancement’ product or something equally utopian and unreachable.

Then there’s the people. Lets be frank, some people are just not the sort you’d let walk your dog. As unsavoury as they are, they aren’t thick. These are the types that know how to use technology to prey on others; children and adults alike.

There are other less known threats that can catch the unaware. For example a ‘drive by download’ is a program specifically designed to download onto your computer and harm it without your consent or even knowledge while surfing the net. There are hackers both human and automated programs trying to gain access to your computer and use it; some studies estimate that around a quarter of all computers connected to the internet are being used in bot networks; A bot network is a network of well, bots; robots.  It consists of hundreds even thousands of infected computers which are centrally controlled without the owner’s knowledge. While I’m doing my best here to send you into the fetal position, lets also mention spam, (unsolicited email) which is often not just annoying, it can be perverted too.  Internet pop ups and pornography are also dangers to avoid.

Obviously avoiding the Internet altogether would eliminate all these problems, but that’s like saying car accidents be eliminated if we all drank tea, brought a donkey and moved to an isolated pacific island; in which case we’d soon run out of tea, be constantly worried about the rising sea levels and probably kill the donkey. Donkeys aren’t that much into coconuts. In today’s modern world, the net has become somewhat essential, especially for business. So what do we do to use the net safely?  Below I’ll outline 10 suggestions that will at least minimize the common threats and even eliminate some.

1. USE A DECENT BROWSER

Stop using Internet Explorer (IE). Yes I know it comes with Windows and you can’t delete without breaking Windows.  But pimples come with puberty and nobody wants, needs or appreciates them.  Facts are, despite Microsoft’s claims realbrowserto the contrary, IE is fundamentally flawed, unsafe and actually gets in the way of enjoyable internet use. I’d recommend Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox or even Opera. (Browsers that actually work well tend to have strange non-descriptive names, as if to hide their real purpose from those looking for them.  I know go figure.). They’re all free to download (ironically you’ll need IE to at least download one of them.) If you’re a Mac or Linux user, you’re probably perplexed; “Internet Explorer? What’s that?”  Don’t worry about it, smugly go back to Safari or whatever and relax in the knowledge that Microsoft invented a internet browser for Windows that is so bad that users and developers the world over have been secretly plotting the assassination of the Microsoft inventors ever since.

2. USE A FIREWALL

Don’t surf the internet without a firewall correctly installed and configured. In your car, the wall between your engine and you is a firewall. It is designed to save you in the unlikely event that your engine catches fire. I guess they figured that if flames engulf the engine and sweep up over the windscreen while you’re on your way to the shops, you’ll have the presence of mind to carefully pull over and evacuate the vehicle rather than simultaneously shove the brake peddle through the floor, slide to the shoulder and use whatever ‘oh golly’ synonyms are common in your vocabulary. The kind of firewall I’m talking about here is similar in that it should shield you from some of the heat coming firewallyour way when using the internet. Windows comes with a built in firewall which is surprisingly good. Just make sure it’s always on. Many routers and modems have a firewall, it doesn’t hurt to use more than one provided they play together.  Again if you’re a Mac or Linux user, the ‘engine’ won’t blow up so easily, but even a Ferrari has a firewall albeit behind the driver.

3. USE AN ANTIVIRUS PROGRAM

Along with a firewall you should have an antivirus program installed. These are like the border patrol people you see on TV who inspect all the baggage at airports, but without the guns and dogs. An antivirus program does much the same thing; it inspects downloads and shields your computer for viruses. You can pay for the privilege or use one of the many stripped down versions for free. There’s a reason they use Beagles at airports; they have super-sensitive noses. Not all dogs are created equal. The same goes with an antivirus program. Some are good at finding viruses, others are about as handy as a fan heater in the Sahara.  Before you decide it’s time for an aimless walkabout at the local electronics superstore, where you’ll eagerly hinge on every ‘experienced’ word from the 17 year old shop nerd, simply ask a less invested geek what they’re using, you should get a good idea of what’s hot and what’s not. Being a geek myself and sadly a lot older than 17, here’s a free morsel;  Avast is cool. There’s a free version too, and it’s great. You can download it from their website. AVG has another excellent free version. By the way, Mac users can wipe the smile off their faces, as there are Mac viruses too.  I can just picture the late Steve Jobs evangelically introducing the concept to the hordes of Mac devotees at some imaginary launch with the words “we call it the iVirus.” Linux uses can continue to be smug.

4. BE CAREFUL OF ATTACHMENTS AND DOWNLOADS

Never, and I meant never, not even if the rightclickingsky turns green and ET attacks should you access any file in an email attachment or after downloading it without first scanning it with the antivirus program. Most viruses are programs which typically are launched by clicking on them. Be careful with these attachments and downloads, like you’re handling radioactive waste until you’ve checked them. Most antivirus programs allow you to right click the file and select a scan function from a drop down menu like the accompanying illustration.

 

5. SECURE YOUR INTERNET AND NETWORK CONNECTIONS

Use a secure password to access your internet, so others can’t use your service or access your network if you have one. If you use WIFI, make sure it’s encrypted. Most WIFI enabled modems give you a choice of WEP, WPA or WPA2 encryption. Given that WEP is about as easy to crack as an egg on your forehead, ditch it and use WPA2 if you can. You might need some help to set this up right but it’s worth doing. Don’t use passwords like abc or 123; seriously. Read the paper ‘A Word About Passwords‘ also from Itjive.com if you need to know why.

6. DON’T RESPOND TO SPAM OR SCAMS

Never reply to spam like the ‘click here to remove you from our mailing list’ scam or the ‘click here so you can receive your money’ scams. If you do click them, you’re sending a message like a fish bitting on hooked bait. Robotic programs are constantly scouring the internet looking for email addresses that people actually check. By replying spamyou’re screaming back ‘ hey I’m here, I’m a real person, hassle me!’  They will then obligingly sell your address along with others to the highest bidder, who will then either flood your life with spam, prompt you for further info in an attempt to divest you of your assets (which is actually called phishing) or even send something nasty back. Simply delete any spam and ignore it. If you’re using a Gmail account which by the way has an excellent spam filtering system, you can report the spam and it will be blocked in future.  Gmail is free too, I like free.

One exception however, if you are receiving a newsletter that you’ve subscribed to, by Australian anti-spam laws they must provide you the means at the bottom to unsubscribe from their mailing list, this is legitimate and you can safely click those links.

7. READ SEARCH RESULTS CAREFULLY BEFORE YOU CLICK ON THEM

To avoid accidentally stumbling into indecent sites:  When using a search engine like Google, or Bling if you’re not serious about finding anything, read the annotated description under the title and look at the address. Ask yourself; ‘does the site sound like a legitimate site or does it sound a bit dodgy?’  Choose words in your search that don’t have double dubious meanings. For example if you were looking for a saddle for a horse, don’t type ‘leather saddle’, ‘horse saddle’ would be safer. (The word ‘leather’ will open a Pandora’s box of unwanted results – be warned). Another example;  if looking for toys for your baby boy, typing in ‘male toys’ will obviously come up with other results than what you would have gotten had you typed in something like ‘child toys.’ Be specific in your search requests, avoid words with double meanings as well as connectives like ‘the’, ‘a’ etc. as search engines ignore them anyway.

8. SUPERVISE CHILDREN AND SET GUIDELINES

To reduce children accessing indecent or undesirable sites use video surveillance and hire a 7 foot ex-military body guard (Russian is best) with arms the size of thighs, a booming voice and a crew cut! Seriously though, your supervision is needed. Some sources suggest putting computers in public parts of the house if possible. There’s an obvious need to establish clear guidelines about which sites can and babyonlpatopcan’t be visited and consequences of infringements. There are programs also available which attempt (with limited success) to do the job of parents in this area. I tried one for my teenagers which ended up closing the net so tightly they couldn’t go anywhere and I almost got frog marched down the back to the most suitable lynching tree. Be careful out there, it’s a jungle and they’re animals. Restricting internet access to teenagers is like holding off their air supply, they’ll fight you for it. Only the tough survive, your therapy will hopefully come later.

 9. AVOID BIT TORRENT SITES AND ILLEGAL DOWNLOADING

To further reduce unwanted attacks and infiltration. Avoid sites that illegally offer music, game or movie downloads. How do you know it’s dodgy? Anything to do with a bit torrent site is a dead giveaway. Plus if it’s free then it’s probably stolen. These sites are often so infected with viruses they give medals to people who make it out alive! Besides they’re breaking the law and making you a party to it and it’s really not the kind of party you want to attend. Copyright infringement carries heavy fines and comes with a unique search warrant customized to your actual address, even jail time. Besides it cheats impoverished artists of their millions.  There are legitimate places where you can download music, movies and games, like Google Play and Itunes, you’ll pay a pittance anyway and have the peace of mind that the feds won’t come knocking.

 10. PAY FOR STUFF SECURELY

If like so many you shop on the internet, make sure you pay using a secure system. Paypal is excellent, and I’d recommend you always pay through the Paypal gateway if you have an option as it protects you not just by being secure but also with a consumer protection policy.  Anytime you pay online make sure the page is using SSL (Secure Socket Layer). A small lock icon will be shown at the bottom of the window or in the address/URL bar at the top, while the address itself will start with https://… Rather than just http://. See the accompanying illustration.

ssl

Be diligent about checking your monthly statements and never reply to emails purporting to be from banks or Paypal claiming something like they’re updating their systems and need you to confirm your account details. Do not click on the links ever!. This is a common scam known also as phishing. Banks and Paypal never contact customers this way requesting personal information. Instead promptly report the matter to your bank, the police etc.

Now I haven’t mentioned everything, time and space doesn’t permit and neither probably does your interest level or my attention span, suffice to say though, that if you use your common sense when surfing or purchasing online, you’ll be safe.

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