If you are like me you probably often get asked by friends and family how best they should keep themselves secure when browsing the internet. Below are some of the key things I tell people to remember when using the Internet;
- Be careful about giving out your email address. Only give it to people you trust or have validated in some way.
- If you do a lot of online shopping it is a good idea to use a special email address solely for that purpose. That way any spam you may receive goes to the shopping email address leaving your primary email address less of a target.
- Use strong passwords. Do not use common words, names of people or places. These can be easily guessed and even more so when a computer is used to do the job of guessing. Instead, try and use phrases and mix the case of the letters. For example you could use the phrase “MaryHadaLittleLamb” which would be a strong password to use. It could become stronger by replacing letters with numbers, for example “i” with “1” and “a” with “4”, so the above phrase now becomes “M4ryH4d4L1ttleL4mb”. You can make this even stronger again by using special characters such as ! $ $ etc.
- Always make sure when buying something over the Internet that the website is secure. You can see this from a locked padlock symbol on the bottom bar of your browser and also the web site address should begin with “https”. For example, Bank of Ireland’s online website is normally “http://www.365online.com“, note only http is at the beginning of the address. However, when you go to access the page on their site where you log in your details the site automatically changes to a secure site and the address changes to “https://www.365online.com/banking.htm“. This time note that “https” is at the beginning of the address. Never give out your details to a site that does not have its address begin with “https”.
- Never open attachments in emails that you are not expecting, even if they come from someone you know. Criminals often send viruses using forged emails to look like they come from someone you know in the hope you will open the attachment believing it to be from a friend.
- Never respond to spam email, even to unsubscribe as this simply confirms your email address is active resulting in more spam being sent to it. There is a white paper called “Everything You Wanted to Know About Spam” available at our website.
- Backing up data. – I would strongly advise regularly backing up the important information on your PC as it can take a long time to replace if you have a problem, e.g. your PC breaks down. You can copy your data to a CD, DVD or use USB Sticks.
- Install Anti-Virus software on your PC. This needs to be installed and updated regularly. This software will work in the background on your computer and check all files to make sure that they are free from known computer viruses.
- You should have a personal firewall running on your the PC, Windows XP comes with an inbuilt firewall. A firewall is a piece of software on your machine that makes sure only legitimate traffic enters and leaves your PC (similar to a security guard at a building).
- SpyWare is software loaded onto your PC without your knowledge that can record your keystrokes which your Anti-Virus software and firewall may not detect and sends the data to a third party. For example it can detect when you access your online bank and subsequently record your details. You should install anti-spyware software.
- Make sure you have installed all the latest software patches and updates to your PC.
- There are a number of other sites which contain very useful information, such as the makeITsecure website run by the Department of Communications and the Gardai have a lot of good information on their website.
Vicente Aceituno also has an excellent resource for people to use when looking to protect their home PCs. Vicente’s site has a comprehensive, no-nonsense and practical guide covering areas such as counter measures to take, information to have to hand in the event of a disaster and how to protect your laptop.