Internet Safety Tips
Published: Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, September 14, 2011 13:09
By the time students reach college, most have learned not to leave their facebook page open in a public place, or even at their friend's house. Staying safe while online is a whole lot more than just that, though. Neglecting good internet safety procedures can result in anything from getting a virus on your PC to having your identity or financial information stolen. And while it seems that determined hackers today can get into just about any system, there are some simple steps you can take to convince them to find an easier target.
The following list includes basic online safety tips from Dell's support web site:
-Install an anti-virus product and keep it up to date.
-Install a Firewall product and keep it up to date.
-Back up your data and all of the fun stuff, too.
-Keep your private information private.
Let's take a closer look at each of these. The first step anyone wishing to browse the web needs to take is to install anti-virus software on their computer. Most PC's today come with anti-virus software pre-installed, but these programs sometimes require a paid subscription, which requires periodic renewal. Free versions are available, though, such as AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition 2011, which is available from free.avg.com. Once you've installed anti-virus software, it is crucial that you keep it up to date. Frequent updates are available for these programs, which help to make sure that you are protected from the latest viruses. It is also important that you know which anti-virus software you have installed, and remember what it is called.
Many of today's viruses are of the "Trojan horse" variety. What this means is that they may pretend to do something beneficial for your system, and may even do what they claim. However, the trojan will also run malicious code which gives them access to your information or damages your computer. Many of these trojan viruses pretend to be anti-virus software and will tell you that your computer is infected. If you know the name of the software you are actually running to prevent viruses, you will be able to recognize these types of attacks. If you do contract a virus, it is best that you immediately disconnect from the internet, and run a scan with the software which you installed. If this does not work, you may need to power down your computer until you can have it looked at by a professional.
Staying online while your computer is infected leaves your computer and private information vulnerable to attack. For more information about this rogue anti-virus type of attack, you can read an article by Karen McDowell, Ph.D., Information Security Analyst for the University of Virginia, entitled "Rogue Antivirus Software: Think Before You Download." You can find the article on www.staysafeonline.org.
Another component of virus prevention is called a firewall. Firewalls determine which of your computer's programs can access the internet. Most operating systems today come with a software based firewall system, which is enabled by default. You should not disable this firewall unless you really know what you are doing. In addition to this software firewall, it is likely that your broadband router has built in firewall hardware. You shouldn't have to worry about this firewall hardware, but it is advisable to contact your equipment's manufacturer to make sure that your router has it.
Using passwords is also vital to maintaining your safety while online. You should first of all set up a system password. This will ensure that no one can boot your computer without knowing your password. You should also use a different password for each site you log into. It's not a good idea to use the same password for your facebook, Google+, email account, student login account and other sites. If a hacker manages to get a hold of one of your passwords, and you use the same user name and password at other sites, he will be able to access your other accounts as well. It is also a bad idea to use a password that is easy to guess. Passwords such as "password" or "123456" are as bad or worse than writing your login information on a sticky note and putting it on your monitor.
A good password will not be a word, the name of a pet or loved one, a birthday, anniversary or other easy to guess combination. Ideally, a password will consist of random numbers and letters, with some of the letters capitalized and some symbols thrown in for good measure. Realistically, however, this sort of password is very difficult to remember, especially since you will have more than one. A good compromise is to use numbers and symbols creatively to make a password that is easy to remember. A good example of a safe password that's also easy to remember would be something like "iH8mondAYs!" or "I<3LoZ:OoT!" Remember that your password should be at least 6 characters long, although a minimum of 8 is preferable, although some sites will have specific requirements for passwords. A good, easy to remember password will do you no good if you leave it laying around on a piece of paper or share it with others, so don't!
Backing up your computer data can save you a lot of time and effort, if something unfortunate does happen. Viruses and trojans are not the only things that can go wrong with your computer. Power surges, storms or hardware failure can cause your data to become corrupted or to disappear entirely. For that reason, it is always a good idea to make copies of important files. Don't forget that important files aren't just the school papers and research that you're working on, but should also include your music, movies, pictures and other files. Many operating systems can be set to automatically back up your data periodically, and there are software applications, which can do this as well.