With the recent revelation that computer hackers could have created mayhem by shutting down millions of Internet users through fake servers, this seems like the perfect time to remind people that being cautious on the Internet is always a wise thing to do.
Working with Information Technology with our newspaper and our company, I received emails regularly from security consultants who offer information on the latest threats and ways to combat those threats. In the last week, one firm sent out a "Internet Safety Basics" for customers, and I thought I'd share it with you.
The most important thing to remember about cyber security is that people using their touchpad or mouse are the last line of defense. Technologies such as anti-virus, safe browsers, firewalls, or anything else cannot help if an Internet user clicks on the wrong link or visits the wrong web site.
The following tips help computer users stay safe on the Internet by avoiding risky behavior and common traps:
1. Don't rely on your browser to protect you from malicious websites. Browsers only warn you about sites but cannot stop you from going there. Even if you have high security settings and anti-virus software, visiting a risky web site can result in viruses, spyware or worse.
2. Beware of windows or pages that prompt you to click a link to run software. Malicious web sites can create prompts that look like messages from your browser or computer. If you see a pop-up you think is risky, go to the company's web site for scans and downloads.
3. Don't provide personal information to get something free online. Criminals may use this data to break into personal or work accounts.
4. Watch for shortened URLs, and numbers, hyphens or special characters in a URL. Scammers manipulate URLs to trick users. Be wary of URL's posted in Facebook and sent via email. Use a search engine to identify the actual URL.
5. When you use a search engine be very careful of the result you click on. Hackers use legitimate looking topics to trick you into clicking. Scrutinize the URL to ensure you are going to a legitimate web site.
6. Never trust free content. Free movie, music and video downloads often include pirated content and just as often this content contains viruses and malware.
7. Vary your passwords from site to site. When you use the same password across many sites it makes it easy for criminals to hack all of your accounts. Use more complex and varied passwords for sites with personal information such as banking sites.
8. Be cautious of convenient features such as auto-complete for forms or "remember your password". Web sites can use hidden fields to steal the data from forms. Also, criminals can hijack your browsing session and steal your information if you stay logged-in to a site.
One of the biggest reasons that computer crimes are so common is the fact that there is usually never a face-to-face component where the victim faces the criminal. The anonymity of computer crime is what makes that type of offense so appealing, according to law enforcement authorities.
So there you have some of the most basic steps to preserve your Internet security. Just like scam phone calls, emails or Phishing attempts, if you ever feel your Internet account has been compromised, contact your Internet provider immediately for assistance.
And, above all, never, ever give out any personal information such as bank account numbers, social security numbers or passwords to respond to any email request unless you initiated the email and know whom you are dealing with.