Stay Safe Online by Avoiding Spyware

Once you are connected to the internet it is important that you protect your personal data by avoiding spyware infections. Luckily there are some easy ways in which this can be achieved simply and without breaking the bank.

Firstly a firewall is one of the best line of defense against unwanted software finding its way on to your PC; there are a number of good ones available for free download on the worldwide web. They work by monitoring the flow of information over your internet connection, allowing only the traffic you specify from your PC and not some data transmitted by spyware, that may have installed itself onto your system. Indeed if you start with a clean computer the firewall shouldn’t allow any spyware to find its way into your PC.

Secondly hackers and software writers of malware, adware and spyware have primarily targeted the users of internet explorer as this is the most common browser. Switching to a more secure alternative like Firefox, is a prudent decision.

Most spyware is installed without your knowledge, through file-sharing programs like Kazaa, and through some (but not all) Web sites that prompt you to install special software in order to view the page, or through e-mail messages that lure you with tempting links. Be aware of such prompts to download new plugins when viewing websites. If in doubt do a quick internet search of that which is trying to install.

Some browsers offer a specific option to limit pop-up windows, it is wise you use this option. Be aware of the security settings of your browser, only allow cookies for the website you are visiting.

Should you find yourself with a symptoms of a spyware infection, a legitimate removal tool can go a long way to cleaning up the effected computer. There are some good basic free tools that protect your system from most malware, you’ll want to periodically run a combination of anti spyware programs. I recommend running Ad Aware and Spybot; one program can miss something that the other will detect. Note that these don’t need to run on startup; just run scans with them periodically to make sure your system is safe, it is also recommended that you update each software package before use, by doing so the latest spyware threats are looked for.

Avoiding spyware and protecting your personal data is mainly being aware of what you are doing online and following a few simple safe practices.

Stay Safe Online – 7 + 1 Steps to Internet Safety and Security For Your PC

Internet safety seems like an oxymoron these days with all the threats aimed at our computers. Staying safe online doesn’t have to be difficult, and this article covers the basic steps that every computer user should take.

The phrase “Internet Safety” often seems like an oxymoron. Every day we hear of new threats aimed at our internet connected personal computers which seems to just make it that much harder to actually stay safe while connected online.

Knowing how to stay safe online has become a practical requirement these days for anyone using a computer connected to the ‘net. Fortunately, a few relatively simply steps and a little education can go a long way to making sure that your internet experience is both safe and secure.

1. Use a Firewall – If you do nothing else, you must use a firewall. Firewalls act as a type of barrier between your computer and the internet, preventing remote computers from connecting to yours unless you explicitly allow it. A firewall can be a simple device such as a broadband router, it could be a feature of your operating system such as Window’s own built-in firewall, or it can be a full featured software package that you purchase and install on each computer. Which one you choose is less important than making sure you have one and that it is enabled and deflecting threats.

2. Back Up – Failing to back up your computer, or at least your critical data, is perhaps the most common mistake I see being made today. And sadly it can also be the most costly regret you’ll have when, not if, disaster strikes. If malware hits or hardware fails often your best if not your only resort will be to recover your system from its most recent backup. Don’t have one? Then you might be severely out of luck. I regularly hear from people who’ve lost all of their data due to a malware infestation or a hardware failure. If nothing else, invest in a large external USB drive and a good backup utility and start backing up regularly right away.

3. Keep Critical Software Updated – Every day people experience problems that could have been completely avoided had they simply kept their operating system and other PC software up to date. Both Windows XP and Vista make staying up to date very easy with “Automatic Updates” and I definitely recommend that it be turned on. Similarly, most other software and applications will now also check for updates and notify you as new ones are available. Make sure your system and applications are checking for updates regularly and installing them as automatically as possible.

4. Educate Yourself – No matter what else you do, no matter what other protections you put in place, malware authors can bypass it all if they can fool you into doing something you shouldn’t. The problem, of course, is that “what you shouldn’t” isn’t always immediately obvious. That’s why it’s so important to educate yourself on how to detect and avoid their attempts. In short: be skeptical. Don’t open email attachments or instant messenger downloads unless you’re positive they’re safe. Don’t click on links in email unless you’re positive that they’re taking you to where you expect them to. Don’t download and install software without first checking it for malware. Don’t ignore security warnings unless you’re sure it’s OK. Use strong passwords and never share them with anyone.

5. Scan for Viruses – Even with the best of intentions, viruses happen. Even with the firewall in place, the operating system up to date, and a healthy knowledge of what is and is not safe, sometimes something slips through. That’s where you’ll need a good anti-virus tool. There are many to choose from but the key factors boil down to this: select a reputable tool, enable its “real time” monitoring if you’re at all uncertain of yourself or others using the computer, configure it to scan your hard disk completely once a day, and make absolutely certain that it’s downloading the latest anti-virus information daily.

6. Protect Yourself from Spyware – Much like viruses, spyware can also occasionally make it through your defenses. Spyware is often relatively benign from a pure safety perspective – spyware doesn’t often erase your hard drive or send spam, for example. However spyware does represent an intrusion, often presenting ads or modifying other programs in ways you didn’t expect or ask for. And at its worst, spyware lives up to its name, spying on you and capturing potentially sensitive information. Anti-spyware utilities operate a little differently than anti-virus, so you’ll want to make sure that you have a good spyware scanner in addition to your anti-virus tools. Like those tools, you’ll want to make sure that it’s downloading the latest spyware information daily as well.

7. Secure your WiFi – The default configuration of most WiFi equipment, and certainly the easiest configuration to set up, is completely unsecure. That means that anyone within range of your WiFi equipment can monitor what you’re sending to and from the internet – including your account IDs and passwords. The same is true in most internet cafes and free WiFi hotspots. There are two steps you must take. First, at home, make sure you enable WPA security. This will require a password to connect to your wireless network, and will encrypt all the data so it cannot be monitored. (The older WEP security is no longer sufficient, as it is easily cracked.) Second, when you’re using an open unsecure WiFi hotspot, take care to only access sensitive resources through encrypted connections. That means making sure that any web page you’re visiting that requires personal information is connecting via an https connection. It also means that you shouldn’t be downloading or sending email via your POP3 or SMTP based email program unless you know those connections are configured to use encryption as well, since by default they do not.

Bonus Step: Understand Physical Security – An old saying that I’ve found myself repeating to people more and more in recent years is this: “if it’s not physically secure, it’s not secure.” All of the preceding tips are for naught if someone else who doesn’t understand these steps can use your computer and accidentally download malware. It’s all for naught if someone with malicious intent can walk up to your computer, reboot it, install software or hardware and walk away without your noticing. It’s all for naught if your computer can be stolen. Take care to understand just how physically at-risk you might be and take appropriate actions. Don’t let others use your computer until you’re comfortable with their understanding of the risks. Don’t leave your computer unattended if you can’t trust the people who might be able to touch it. Consider encrypting data on your laptop or other computer if it can be lost or stolen.

Everything I’ve outlined might at first seem overwhelming. The good news it that most of these steps are things you’ll need to do only once, and then consider infrequently thereafter. And to put it perhaps into a little bigger perspective they’re not nearly as overwhelming as the impact of an actual security problem if it happens to you. The practical reality of the situation is simply this: we as individual computer users need to take the responsibility of the steps required to Stay Safe Online.

More information about staying safe online, including specific recommendations for each of the aspects discussed above, can be found at the author’s web site Ask Leo! There you’ll also find hundreds of answers to every day technical and computer problems.

How To Stay Safe Online

Making friends online is a popular and enjoyable activity, particularly as the internet enables users from any country to interact in a way which would not normally be possible. This article recognises the value of such an activity whilst providing some important advice for minimising your chances of being an online victim.

Staying Safe Online

Before you even think about passing on personal information to any social networking or money making sites here are a few security tips that you should actively consider, they won’t protect you completely but may reduce your risk:

1. Consider setting up an separate bank account for managing online earnings and payments or creating a paypal account, (www.paypal.com). This ensures that in the unlikely event that you are the victim of an online scam your primary bank account which your wages and savings go into remains safe.

2. Before you even consider joining the site check to see if they have a online security statement avoid sites that have no information concerning how they will manage your personal data.

3. Avoid creating a user name based on your name for example joebloggs123 and opt out of options to display the city that you live in. This is because you may be more vulnerable to identity fraud, particularly if a fraudster has you name (from your user name) and the city you live in , it’s very easy to check the electoral register for your address and use this information to steal your identity.

4. Never pass on personal information about yourself to another user no matter how sincere they might be as you simply don’t know whether that person is who they claim to be.

5. Be careful about the types of pictures you post on any social networking forums. Whilst you might think you are showing off your good looks and having fun it is easy for other users to become fixated, I’m not saying don’t post pictures of yourself, but just be careful. Try to stick to neutral pictures like, your garden, your pets, places you’ve visited whilst on holiday.

6. If you use a Wireless connection to access the internet ensure that your network (via your router) is secure. This is easy to do as all routers now come with encryption software that enable you set password protection so that no one else with a wireless connection can access your network. If you are unsure, contact the manufacturer of the router and ask for advice on how to set up the security element to the network. An unsecured network is as good as giving a criminal your bank details, as they can access your personal files and even use software to record the keystrokes you make revealing sensitive data such as passwords.

Face to Face Meetings

Remember that not all people using online sites are who they say they are. Some people use the internet to create the perfect image of who they would like to be and their real life persona can differ wildly from their online profile. I would urge extreme caution about meeting people face to face but having said this the internet has become an increasingly popular place to meet people and I know of friends who have started relationships after meeting people online. So if you are intent upon a face to face meeting with someone you met online please take some simple precautions:

a) Meet in a public place, where there are lots of people around, like a coffee shop or shopping mall. This way if you have any concerns about the person there are lots of people around to be able to seek help from.

b) Inform someone you trust what you intend to do and give them details of the person and where you intend to meet them. Also give tell them the site or chat room you met the person on and give them the user name details of the person you are meeting. Should anything happen the police can easily discover the identity of the individual concerned and it could save your life. Ideally ask someone to come with you and perhaps observe from close by. Alternatively arrange to call your friend /family member by a set time, ideally within 30 minutes of the meeting, and agree that if you haven’t called that they will ring you. If no contact is made within that time contact should be made with the police.

c) Even in a first face to face meeting never reveal further personal information such as your address or home phone number. If you must supply a contact number on first meeting give them your mobile/cell phone number. This way if you decide not to pursue the friendship in the future or have any concerns you can always change your number.

Above all never think “It won’t happen to me” By taking some simple precautions you can ensure it doesn’t but being lazy or complacent could cost you your life.