Internet Self-Defense Introduction

“How can I be safe online?” is a question I hear a lot…usually right after cleaning a client’s system or warning them about the dangers that lurk online.

The only way to guarantee that you won’t end up with some kind of virus, malware, trojan, or crapware is to completely isolate your system.

Unplug from the internet. Don’t use disks or flash drives. Don’t load software from unknown sources.

Do this and I can guarantee you won’t ever get this crud on your system. Really, though, how many of us are willing to go to these measures?

Very few people. After all, with e-mail, Facebook, ebay, and the myriad google sites out there, most of the value in a computer comes from its very ability to connect with others.

I’ll be posting a series of in-depth articles on these topics, but here are the basic answers to “how do you stay safe online?”

1. Still running XP? Operating systems play a big role. Windows 7 tends to be much safer than Windows XP. Mac and linux systems tend to be safer as well.

2. You need antivirus/antispyware. For home users I like Avira Home and Malwarebytes’ Antimalware. For business I like VIPRE Antivirus and Malwarebytes’. Recent versions of Norton have been much improved but still not my favorite. Stay away from Mcafee even if it’s free.

3. System updates. No matter what system is running your computer you need to make sure it is updated consistently. Run your Windows Updates (better yet, switch to Microsoft Update), Mac OS updates, or whatever built-in updating capability your system has.

4. Flash/PDF/Java updates. On a regular basis visit and click the little “Get Adobe Flash Player” button. Follow the instructions. Do the same for Adobe Reader. Then go to and get the latest version of Java.

5. Mix your passwords. Don’t use the same passwords for every machine and every web site. If someone manages to steal your password for Facebook or Webkinz you don’t want them to have access to your bank account, do you? I personally use a password manager like RoboForm or PassKey to keep mine straight.

6. Use your eyes…and know your threats! If your bank’s web site starts asking for your social security number or “challenge questions” before you sign on, STOP (many banks ask for this AFTER you sign on, that’s usually OK) If your bank web site looks different in any way, STOP. CALL your bank. ASK if there are any recent changes to their web site. If they say no, have your system checked by a pro.

7. Don’t click a link in an e-mail. Or open a file from an e-mail. If it’s important then ASK the sender to confirm what it is…and whether they really sent it. If it’s THAT important to see the video of dancing kittens…well…maybe you DO need professional help.

8. Know your machine. Know what protection programs are running. Be aware of your computer’s performance. Is it slowing down a lot? Are you getting e-mails saying you’re sending spam?

There are lots of other ideas, but these are some keys to keeping your personal info and computer safe online.

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