It's a jungle out there on the net, but by using these few simple tricks and traps, anybody can protect themselves from the virtual beasts that lurk there, waiting to attack the unwary. Online security is not just for big corporations. It's true that they stand to lose more, in terms of value, than you or I, but they have sufficient reserves to be able to weather the storm, whereas the average small business or man on the street is in a much more precarious position.
Using your credit or debit card online is no longer as dangerous as it once was, but there are other ways in which use of your computer can be made difficult, even impossible. Viruses are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many different ways in which your computer can be preyed on whilst you are online, and even after you have disconnected. Apart from worms, viruses, Trojans, data miners, and keystroke loggers, there is spyware, adware and who knows what else out there. All of them trying to take advantage of you and/or your computer.
These products have many purposes. Very few of them are purely vindictive or disruptive. For example, many viruses which install themselves onto a computer do it no harm at all. Instead, they use the email program running on the computer to send out spam, starting with everyone in the computer's address book.
And although everybody I know deletes spam immediately, presumably there must be some sales, or this type of virus would be of no value to the author. It is important to be as secure as you can, because in extreme cases, your very identity can be stolen, and used in ways that will disadvantage you for a long time to come. And though this may be quite rare, there are many viruses or Trojans which disrupt the data you have on your computer, in some cases causing so much damage that you have to reformat the disk and start again - which is fine if you have kept backups (as we have all been taught to do), but how many of us really do back our data up? We know we should do this, but when was the last time you made a complete copy of all your data? This sort of attack tends to be at the amateur end of the scale. But if you have children who surf the net, or you correspond with someone who has kids who surf, you are at risk.
The areas where they surf are some of the most likely sources of this type of virus. But any of us can fall victim just by a single moment of inattention when checking through our emails. So how can you protect yourself from all these different threats? - Get yourself a firewall. Sysoft offer a free personal firewall that is very good, and makes your computer invisible to many types of attack - the best defense possible. - If you haven't got one already, install a virus-checker, such as AVG, which is available for free download and set it to start up whenever you turn on your computer. - Schedule a daily or weekly update for your virus checker at a time when you are usually online, but not using the computer for anything requiring 100% of its resources.
- Get a copy of Ad-Aware, available for free download, and run it once a week. - Download and install a free copy of Spyware Blaster This will load up when you start up your computer and sit in the background, preventing access to your private data by thousands of different types of spyware. Do make sure it is regularly updated, though, or you may fall foul of a new attacker.
- Run Spybot Search and Destroy once a week to check for anything missed by your other lines of defence. - Even though you may have installed all these pieces of software, keep them up to date and use them religiously, it is still vital to take care with incoming emails. If you get an email which is very short and doesn't 'sound' like the person it is supposed to be from, with an attachment, DO NOT open it. Delete it straight away. If there is any doubt, still delete it, but you could email your friend and just check with them that they didn't send you anything. It is far better to be safe, and cause a tiny bit of inconvenience, than to end up trashing your hard disk.
- When making a payment online, make sure the connection is secure. Secure sites start with https:// instead of the usual http://. On IE, a yellow lock symbol will appear in the bottom right hand corner of the screen in the status bar. - Don't make payments on public computers, such as at internet cafes, libraries and so on.
You don't know how secure these are, they are very likely to be infected by keystroke recording viruses. - In addition, if logging onto an Instant Messenger such as Yahoo or MSN on a public computer, make sure the box to remember the password is UNCHECKED, or someone could steal your identity and send offensive material to your buddies (this happened to a friend of mine). - Finally, if it is practical, change your password regularly. However, do not fall into the trap of changing it so frequently that you cannot remember it and have to write it down or put it in a data files. That would be a lot less secure than keeping to the same password you've always had.
Using these tools, you can protect yourself from almost any malicious program, and if you do pick up a virus or piece of spyware, for example, you will catch it quickly, before it can do irrecoverable damage.
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