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Safe Surfing

By: Anna Hinds BA (hons) - Updated: 9 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
Surfing Safety Online Safety Anti-virus

You may think you’re perfectly safe as you sit down and switch on your computer but dangers lurk behind every link! From vicious viruses to heartless hackers, the online world is full of threats. Fortunately there are basic steps you can take to prevent most problems. Use our simple guide and surf safe.

Stay Safe From Computer Viruses

Computer viruses can temporarily or permanently damage your computer. They don’t need your consent to self-execute, taking up memory, deleting files, or running default pictures or videos you didn’t ask for. Just like an ordinary cold virus, the computer virus arrives uninvited, infects your basic functions, disables your favourite applications, and sends itself to your friends and contacts. But, like a cold virus, you can take steps to prevent them taking hold in the first place.

First, check you have an anti-virus programme (such as Norton or McAfee) – easy to install and undemanding to run, these will do your protection work behind the scenes. A good anti-virus programme is your first line of defence against computer-transmitted viruses and bugs. Once you’ve installed it, make sure you keep it updated (it will probably do this unbidden). But what else can you do to stay safe?

The best thing you can do is make sure that every programme on your computer is secured against viruses. You may have bought the latest word processing software but security flaws are likely to appear in it way before you upgrade to the next version. Hacking is a professional business: professional security experts can discover holes and vulnerabilities in even the very newest software. Fortunately software developers are onto them, too. They issue regular ‘security patches’ which, once downloaded, will cover up the security holes in your software, making it difficult for viruses to wriggle in.

Finally, stay safe when using email. If you receive an attachment or forward from someone you don’t know, don’t open the mail – delete it immediately. Even if the attachment is from a trusted source, be wary of opening it, especially if it’s a funny. Viruses have been spread very effectively in the past by being attached to a good comic email!

How to Stay Safe:

  • Install an anti-virus programme.
  • Use the Microsoft Update site for Microsoft programmes, and use Secunia to search for updates on other programmes you may use.
  • Don’t open any unrecognisable emails; if downloading attachments, save to your hard drive first, giving your anti-virus time to scan them.

Stay Safe from Data Theft

Whether you’re playing an online game, chatting in a forum or checking your bank accounts, your personal safety is at risk. How? Data theft – it’s one of the quickest-growing crimes in the UK. Your personal data can be stolen directly from your computer (especially if you use a wireless connection), from an insecure web page, or straight from a company server. Whenever you give out personal details, you’re sending them into a potentially unsafe database, prime prey for identity thieves. There are, fortunately, some steps you can take to avoid this type of safety breach.

How to Stay Safe:

  • If using a wireless connection, use a password, and encryption if possible.
  • When asked to type your personal details into an online form, make sure the URL begins with “https” (the extra “s” means “secure”).
  • Consider carefully before handing out personal information to a new company. Is the company reputable? Is it necessary to give your details? What are you getting in return for this potential privacy and safety breach?
  • Use a proxy server to disguise your identifying information (like the location of your computer, search terms, and passwords).

Stay Safe from Online Threats

The web isn’t a family-friendly place. The threats of pornography and online gambling are waiting around every corner – ready to pop up on your screen in the middle of reading the news or to self-download via an email virus. If your PC is shared by the family, consider installing a safe browser, which will disable access to or from adult sites.

Another type of software that can sneak in and self-install on your computer is Spyware. This records your online behaviour and sometimes passwords, sending them back to a watchful owner. Spyware is often downloaded accidentally, because it’s hidden on the back of a ‘useful’ download like music sharing software. You won’t know it’s there… until something very strange happens.

How to Stay Safe:

  • Install a family-friendly browser or software programme to keep unwanted adult content at bay.
  • Use a Spyware detector on a regular basis (available free online).

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