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Concerns about internet security are valid and I am sure this question will draw a lot of response as well as controversy over the exact methods to accomplish your goals.
In my opinion, there are several steps as well as general guidelines you should follow to reduce your exposure while surfing the internet. Note: The only way to be 100% Protected is to have no internet at all. Please keep in mind that whole books are written on this subject and I don’t intend to cover the details of each and every aspect, nor step by step instructions.
HIGH SPEED INTERNET CONNECTIONS
- Router – Regardless of who your internet service provider is, your first line of defense is to install a Router between your CABLE modem and your computer. Some companies now provide a modem with a built-In router, so check your manual for details. You can purchase a basic router for as little as $30. Even better, would be what they call a Firewall Router (Router with built-in firewall) which can run $50 or more.
- Router Settings – Always change the default factory username and password to access your router. Depending on the type of router you have, there could be additional security settings within the router that you may want to change..
- Wireless Router – If you are planning to go wireless and have purchased a wireless router, you should be aware that the factory settings have no security at all and need to be changed once the system is up and running. Anyone driving by your house can access your connection. At the very least, I would change the router password, enable WPA2 encryption and MAC filtering. (I will save this for another time)
CREDIT CARD TRANSACTIONS
- Protected Accounts – If you plan to purchase goods and services online, I would recommend setting up a special online account such as PayPal.
- Using a Single Card – If you prefer to use one of your current credit cards, set aside a single credit card for all online purchases. Don’t use that card for any other transactions except online. It will be a lot easier to spot errors and fraudulent charges if it is not filled with normal everyday charges.
- Fraud Protection – Use a credit card that comes with some form of fraud or online purchase protection. (check your credit agreement).
- Low Credit Limit – Select a credit card with a lower credit limit. Having a credit line of only a few thousand dollars opposed to $18,000 can reduce your potential liability.
- Purchase From Known Companies – I know it is hard to resist, but I would suggest only purchasing from known companies or ones that have been recommended to you.
- Do not Respond – I would strongly advise against giving credit card information to any unsolicited websites (pop-up ads or email solicitations).
- Avoid Following Links – If you want to go to Barnes & Noble to purchase a book, type their web address in directly, instead of following an unknown link contained within an email. It could take you to a fictitious site that looks just like the original.
- Spelling Errors – When typing in the address to a website, double check your spelling. Some fraudulent websites take advantage of common misspellings and may look just like the real thing.
- Common Sense – Use your common sense. If it seems to be too good to be true? … Well, you know the rest of the line.
USERNAMES AND PASSWORD
- Do Not Save your Passwords – I know it is not as convenient and a real pain, but never store or save your usernames and passwords for anything. Always type them in directly each time. This especially goes for any form of online banking.
- Create More Difficult Passwords – Be more creative with your passwords, avoid using easy to guess things like your name, birthday and child’s name.
- Use Numeric and Alphanumeric – Passwords are harder to break if they contain both numbers and letters.
- Don’t use the same Password – Avoid using the same username and password for everything. Mix it up as much as possible.
- Change your Password – You should change your password as often as is practical.
Separate Email Accounts – I always suggest setting up an extra email account for yourself to be used for all online activity. Most internet service providers such as Google, Comcast, Verizon and MSN allow you several free email addresses. Use one email account for friends, family and business (the emails that you really care about). Use the other account for all other activity such as registering your computer, software registration, subscriptions to forums and online purchases. Each time you submit you email address online, you have the potential of it getting on some spam list. This can help you keep the flood of email somewhat organized and worse case, if it gets completely out of control, you can delete the account and start over without the hassle of changing your main account.
- Receiving Attachments – You can change the settings to prevent attachments that may contain viruses from downloading. This can be a problem if you regularly receive attachments because you may not be able to open them.
- Opening Attachments – The majority of problems come from opening attachments. Do not open any attachments unless you know the sender and even then I would not open them unless you were expecting it.
- Displaying Email – I would recommend changing the settings to not show you the contents of an email until you double click on them.
- Downloading Pictures – You can also choose to be prompted before downloading pictures within emails instead of displaying them automatically.
- Junk Mail – Explore the options for filtering spam so that you can automatically move them to a spam or junk mail folder. If you wish, you can have them deleted, but I prefer to brief through them to check for the few real emails that may be misdirected.
- Never give out personal information – I would never give my social security number to anyone. The same goes for account numbers and passwords. If someone called you on the phone, would you give them this information? So, why would you give it to someone on the internet?
- Be very careful of bank inquires – I received an email recently that looked very official. It stated that there had been some unusual activity on my bank account and that I should follow the link and enter my account information to verify. If it were not for the fact that I did not have an account with them, I might have replied and given some stranger all of my personal information.
You are going to need some form of security software. There are numerous software packages out there for handling all forms of security from Virus protection to encryption. In most cases, unless you really enjoy diving in and learning all about it, I would recommend installing a single, self contained Internet Security Package that includes at the minimum, virus protection and a Firewall (ie. Norton, Zone Alarm, Trend Micro, Panda). You can purchase each product individually and in some cases mix and match products from different companies to achieve the maximum protection, but you always run the risk of problems or conflicts between products. I prefer to make it simple, one product from one manufacturer. You can purchase all kinds of special software to hide your every move, permanently delete files, encrypt your files and even monitor your children. I am not that paranoid, but it is all available.
I would recommend installing one of the many programs available to block and/or remove spyware. Fortunately, two of the best ones are available for download for free. SuperAntiSpyware and Adaware. There are also many other good ones out there.
- Security Settings – You can change your security settings from within Internet Explorer, by clicking on TOOLS => INTERNET OPTIONS. There is both a security tab and a Privacy tab that you can use to customize your settings. Without getting into all the options, I would suggest experimenting with the various levels of protection and then surfing. If you find you are having problems you can readjust the settings. If you normally go to the same few sites you can add them to your trusted Zones. The privacy tab allows you to adjust how your system will handle Cookies. Some sites require you to accept cookies, but it all depends on your individual surfing habits. Again you can add common sites to Trusted Zones to override security problems.