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15 Simple Tips for Online Safety & Security

With more and more people gaining access to the Internet every day, the importance of ensuring that you and your information remain secure while using the Internet for personal or business reasons cannot be stressed enough. Cyber attacks, viruses, malware, and unwanted intrusions into "secure" computing systems occur frequently and these issues cannot be completely eradicated.

The solution is to practice safe computing habits, educate yourself about security threats and prevention methods, and always use strategies and options that minimize your exposure to risk.

Here are fifteen important tips for staying safe while using the internet and keeping your computer and your personal data as secure as possible:

  • Disable the Auto-Run feature in Windows. This built-in Windows component allows silent programs to execute without your knowledge because auto-run grants them permission to initiate without obtaining active consent.

  • Always have an anti-virus program on your computer and keep it updated. There are plenty of free or very inexpensive anti-virus programs available, so you have no excuse for not having one. Make sure you set the program up to do a full scan at least once a week.

  • Do not turn off the Firewall options on your computer, even if a program claims the Firewall needs to be disabled for the program to work. Firewall settings allow you set program-specific exceptions without disabling the protection altogether.

  • When choosing passwords for online sites or online accounts (bank accounts, Pay Pal, etc.), make sure you never use the same password for multiple sites, use a mixture of upper and lower case letters and numbers (and symbols if they are allowed), avoid using personal information (birth date, maiden name, social security number), never use a password of less than 10 characters, and combine words or create nonsensical ones. The harder your password is for you to remember, the more difficult it will be for someone else to guess it!

  • Update the core components of your computer's software regularly, or set the system to automatically find and download updates. The most common example of this is Windows Update for Microsoft operating systems.

  • While it is tempting to download free movies, music, and software from torrent sites, it can also be very harmful to your computer. Torrent content is generally unverified and frequently contains viruses or other harmful malware.

  • E-mail has become a common way for viruses, scams, and phishing activities to obtain information or compromise your computer. When reading your e-mails, never click on an embedded link in the message unless you know the destination (you can find this out by hovering your mouse over the link). This applies to messages from people you know, also, because most web-based e-mail accounts (Yahoo!, Gmail, etc.) can be compromised.

  • Disable Java (not JavaScript) in your internet browser. Exploits through Java occur frequently, even though Java itself it almost never needed when using the internet

  • While Internet Explorer is very popular, it lacks a feature included in Mozilla Firefox that makes Firefox a safer browser to use, particularly if you are susceptible to JavaScript threats. Firefox has a NoScript add-on that blocks all JavaScript programs from sites that you have not approved.

  • Back up important data on your computer to an external drive or storage location (an online "cloud" or flash drive) regularly to prevent total loss in the event your computer is stricken with a virus or other harmful malware.

  • System recovery questions ask for basic information like your mother's maiden name, the name of your hometown, or your pet's name. This information is also likely contained somewhere on your Facebook page. When providing recovery responses, treat them like passwords and never provide actual information that can be freely found elsewhere on the internet.

  • Never open or run executable files directly from the internet. Download them to your computer's hard drive or an external storage device and perform a virus scan first.

  • Establish more than one e-mail address for multiple purposes. For example, you could have one e-mail address known only to close friends and family members, another for online banking and financial transactions, and another for online gaming purposes. This reduces the amount of potential spam, malware threats, and phishing risks you are exposed to.

  • If you have a supplemental firewall program such as Comodo or ZoneAlarm that asks for permission when an unknown program is attempting to download a file, connect to your computer, or execute a program, never allow the action unless you know what the program or file is first and are sure it is from a trusted source.

  • When using social media such as Facebook, be cautious about what personal information you share. What you post on the internet is visible to everyone and can be used in a harmful or damaging way. Another Facebook tip is to avoid accepting friend requests from people you don't know personally. While it may be "cool" to have 10,000 friends, how many of them are you positive you can trust with your personal information?

Protecting your sensitive or confidential information and keeping your computer or internet-enabled mobile device safe from unwanted intrusions is essential in our internet-driven society.

Follow the tips provided here and continue to educate yourself further about ways to stay secure while using the internet, regardless of what your online activities consist of or how you access the online world. When it comes to internet security, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

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