Internet Safety Tips - Latest Version
I am always being asked for the top 5 or top ten things an internet user should be doing to stay safe when they are online. Believe it or not, the advice does change! And I've made an addition to my normal arsenal of advice that is a must-know for those who love music! Read on for my current top six things you need to do:
- Keep your system clean and in good shape with an updated internet security suite and updated operating system, browser and other services.
- Stay alert against cybercrime: avoid clicking unknown links in email, social networks, IM, Twitter.
- Keep passwords safe and strong. Don’t share them and don’t use the same one for everything.
- Don’t use file sharing programs; they open the door to malware and cybercriminals stealing your info.
- Be vigilant when using public computers or wifi networks. Avoid doing sensitive transactions or sharing private information if you can’t be sure the system is secure.
- Back it up. With today’s online backup services, your data can be protected, recoverable and accessible.
Now to provide some clarification. The first piece of advice is pretty straight-forward and only a little self-serving coming from an internet security software vendor. You really can't afford to use an unprotected computer online. Tests show a computer lacking basic internet protection gets hacked in under four minutes by automated script-running hackers trolling the internet. And many of the worst methods for hacking your computer are vulnerabilities in the very software you use to boot up, log on and enjoy the web: your operating system, your browser, and many services for the internet like Adobe and Java. So you've got to keep everything up-to-date. It does take work. For example, I just got a new work laptop and didn't update the version of Java. I only realized it when a weblink to a friend's article didn't work. I'd updated the Java on the old computer so in my mind, I'd already taken care of that one. New computer means you have to start over on those tasks, d'uh.
The second tip is about avoiding falling for phishing and other online scams. We used to just warn about opening unknown emails or attachments. These days, the cybercriminals are working within social networking sites and microblogging sites to catch us unawares. Be suspicious of messages from friends that don't seem right and contact them in old-fashioned ways to check up. Old-fashioned may mean in-person (if at the office or school) or using the telephone.
Passwords has always been a risk area. People often write them down and use yellow sticky notes on their desk to keep up with the ridiculous series of logins we have to use just to start the computer and get down to work. I feel that pain but there's no excuse for the common practice of using "password" or "abc123" as your password. And yet people do! There are loads of tips for mnemonic devices for creating and remembering complex passwords and using password managers to keep up with them. And don't use the same password on multiple sites or you risk opening many valuable doors for the cybercriminal with just one stolen or cracked key.
File-sharing is a new worry, at least for me. If you give your child a music player and don't provide a legal way for them to acquire music, you've created a music pirate. The most common way children and adults alike are getting free music is through the use of file-sharing or peer-to-peer systems. These systems are riddled with malware and cybercriminals have figured out a number of ways to use them to peer inside your computer and network. It's almost like window shopping for your private data. Don't make identity theft so easy for cybercriminals. Remove any file-sharing services on your computer and make sure those on your home network don't use them. It only takes one weak link to destroy the whole system.
Public computers and wifi networks have special risks. I don't mean to say you shouldn't ever enjoy the freedom that working in a cafe or in the airport provides but you should always be aware of the risks and behave accordingly. The NY Times did a story on this and it's worth a read. (Note: they interviewed me extensively for the story).
Lastly, backup will never cease to be the dental flossing of the computer world. You know you should do it, you understand the benefits, but you either fail to do it regularly or at all. Far worse than dental decay could be waiting for you if you continue in these bad practices and suffer a hard drive failure, a stolen computer, or natural disaster that takes out computers, storage devices and other forms of media records. Check out the various online backup systems, send copies of beloved digital photos and documents to other family members, send copies to yourself using free email services but put a plan of action together and follow it!