Why You Have to Protect Yourself Online

The process of protecting yourself on the internet is basically the same as they were a decade ago. At the same time, however, criminals are upping their game, too. This means that not only must you maintain vigilance when online, but also be aware of the tactics that the bad guys use. You surely know the basics of protecting yourself online, but there are also other tactics and tools that you can use to ensure that you are safe.

The Safest Internet Browser Is…

The major browsers are:

  • Mozilla Firefox
  • Safari
  • Google Chrome
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer (Now “Edge”)

Let’s look at Internet Explorer. Over the years, there is no question that it has taken a beating. The folks at Microsoft have worked tirelessly to redeem the browser, and it grew much more secure than it was ever been before. But with the last official version being Internet Explorer 11, it’s time to move on. There is a lot of debate over which browser is the ‘best,’ but the truth is, they are almost equal when it comes to reliability, speed, and security.

Internet Explorer, for instance, does a security update whenever Windows Update is done. Firefox offers unique safety features, such as scanning downloads automatically for malware and viruses, as well as offering a virtual keyboard. Google Chrome is very website-friendly, as it tends to have a better display than Firefox.

All of these browsers have security features and options that require the attention of the user, as these might not be enabled by default. For example:

  • Any pop-up blockers should be turned on
  • You must decide if you want the browser to remember your passwords. Though this is convenient, it could put you at risk.
  • You must decide if internet content should be manually or automatically downloaded, and you have to decide where data is stored. Again, this sounds convenient, but it could be a security risk.

Generally, you will have the option to do much of this automatically, but it’s best to be notified before the computer downloads anything. This way, you can make a determination as to what affect the download might have on your system.

Wireless or Wired Internet Connection: What’s Best?

One simple way to understand the differences in security between a wireless and wired internet connection is to think of a telephone cord. When a telephone is connected to the outlet with a cord, the line is naturally secured. On the flip side, handheld, cordless, and wireless phone conversations are easier to intercept thanks to the influx of scanning tools available. Though a wired telephone can also be tapped, to do so, you must have internal access. 

Internet connections are the same. When the computer is directly connected to a modem with a cable or wire, no one can access the connection, unless it’s an internal job. However, when you have a wireless connection, it can be hacked from outside, and all of that information being sent can be stolen.

To secure a WiFi connection one must set up WPA versions of encryption and/or use a Virtual Private Network software.

Protecting Yourself From Phishing

Protecting yourself from phishing is easy when you think about it. Simply don’t click on any email links from a sender you don’t recognize. And always be suspect of emails that look legit. The psychology that goes into phishing emails today is capable of scamming most, if not everyone if you’re not paying attention. If you believe that the email is real, hold the cursor over the enclosed link to see the exact URL. If the link is correct for the site you want to visit, it is probably safe. However, it might also be a type of typosquatting, which is when the address is slightly different, i.e. Google.com vs G00gle.com. If you are not sure if the link is safe, contact the person or company who sent the email to ask.

Alternatively, you can type the address directly into the address bar on the browser.

If you get an email alert from a site with an internal messaging system, such as from your financial advisor or bank, log in directly, not through the email link, and check for any new messages. Again, instead of clicking through the email, if you get a message notifying you that your online statement is ready, again, go to the website by typing the address into the bar yourself or use a bookmark.

If an email ends up in your spam folder, this could be a sign that it is a phishing email, even if you believe that it is real. Many email programs and browsers include some type of tool that detects these emails. Stay out of your spam folder.

Remember, legitimate companies will not send you an email asking you for your credit card information or ask you to change your password. If you get these emails, immediately delete them, and then notify the company.

Preventing the ‘Zombification’ of Your Computer

Both small businesses and consumers have relaxed security practices, and this gives scammers a launching point for their attacks. This allows them to create systems, such as botnets, that allow them to access data without detection. Hackers also use these botnets to send phishing emails, spam, viruses, and malware.

Botnets might be as small as a couple computers or hundreds of thousands of them. In fact, there are millions of computers that have the potential to be part of a botnet. When a computer becomes part of a botnet, they turn into zombies.

There are things that people do that can trigger an attack. These include:

  • Looking at pornographic websites
  • Playing games on sites that are hosted out of the country
  • Downloading pirated software from P2P sites

There is no such thing as honor when talking about thieves, so don’t involve yourself in risky behavior online. You will only be opening the door for hackers.

Computers that have unsupported or outdated operating systems, such as Windows XP, also put you at risk for turning your computer into a zombie. The same can happen when using outdated or old browsers, such as IE 7 or 8.

To get the most protection for your computer, make sure that you are setting Windows Update to automatically keep security patches up to date. You should also make sure that you are upgrading to an operating system that is still being updated, such as Windows 7, 8.1. etc. Also, make sure to set antivirus software to automatically update.

Those who have a Mac know that traditionally, they have not been as vulnerable to the same threats that PC owners face. However, the internet has leveled this playing field, and those who choose a Mac are just at risk of online threats as those with a PC. With more people than ever before using the Mac OS, hackers are working hard to create tools to access these, too. Thus, it is very important that Mac users make sure to always run the latest version of the OS and install Security Updates when they are released.

Protecting Yourself From Typosquatting

Typosquatters are those who create websites, such as Tvvitter.com, that looks almost identical to real websites, such as Twitter.com. After these websites have been created, they send out emails to millions, asking them to click on a link…which looks like it is legitimate. The problem? Once the victim is at that site and puts in their username and password, the hacker has their info.

How can you avoid these scams? Try this:

  • When doing any type of internet search, thoroughly examine each link
  • When typing an address into the browser, check it to ensure that it is spelled correctly
  • Only do business with internet retailers that you are familiar with, and then take care to type the address in yourself or use a bookmark.
  • You might also want to consider using a program, such as McAfee’s SiteAdvisor, which identifies any risky website by using a color-coded rating in the search results. This way, when you are browsing, you will know immediately if a site is safe or not.

Protecting Yourself From Scareware and Ransomware

The best way to keep yourself safe from scareware and ransomware is to ensure that your computer is always updated with the newest OS version and antivirus definitions. You should also make sure that you do not click any email links or visiting websites that might be risky. To fully protect your computer, follow these tips:

  • Use the newest version of your browser. At a minimum, download all available security updates for the browser you have if you don’t want to update.
  • Use the pop-up blocker that comes with your browser. This is usually a default setting, just make sure it’s on.
  • Keep in mind that there are some pop-ups that are legitimate, and if a pop-up will not close, use Ctrl-Alt-Delete to close the browser. If you have a Mac, use Command-Option-Escape, choose the application, and then force it to quit. Alternatively, click the Apple logo at the top left of the screen, and then choose the Force Quit option.
  • Do not ever click on any links that appear with a pop-up. If pop-ups begin to seem out of control, shut down the computer.
  • Persistence and patience count here. Though it can be difficult to close a pop-up, keep in mind that the buttons you press within the borders of the pop-up could still force a virus onto your computer.
  • Make sure that your antivirus software is completely up to date, and set it so that it updates the virus definitions automatically.
  • Never click any link that suggests that it will update your browser. Only update it from the manufacturer's website.

Most people do not have the time, resources, or even the knowledge to fully protect their identity online. It is also not totally possible to prevent all forms of identity theft or fraud, which is why it is best to be forewarned and forearmed. With the current state of cybercrime growing by leaps and bounds, it is essential that you make an investment into protecting your computer.