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I'm a very technical person. I spent 8 hours (or more) a day using computers so I quickly learn what you should and should not do when it comes to the Internet. Unfortunately, 99% of the world is not so lucky. I've been dealing more and more in the 'ma & pa' side of the Internet. What I mean by 'ma & pa' is the average Internet user who is not aware of the hazards out there. I've been working on a friends old laptop trying to clean it up. It's amazing the number of virii & spyware I'm finding on this one little laptop, that's (so they tell me) hardly ever on the Internet and when it is, it's through dial-up. I thought I'd write a short blog with some recommendations on how to minimize these problems.
- Run a Spyware checker regularly. The two best ones are Ad-Aware and Spybot Search & Destroy (run them BOTH regularly). Both are free to download and use.
- Install a good virus scanner and update it regularly. One example of a good, free virus scanner is Grisoft's AVG Anti Virus Free Edition. This is a 'set it and forget it' virus scanner. It will automatically update itself everyday to catch the latest virii and it's free. You are now essentially safe from virii for life for free!
- If you receive a scary sounding email from your bank, credit union, eBay, Paypal, etc stating that your account information needs to be updated due to an attack, or to prevent your account from being shut down, do NOT click on the link in the email. This is a scam called phishing that is designed to steal your bank account information. Someone sets up a web site that looks identical to the real web site and makes an email designed to look identical to an 'officiel' email from the site. Then when you login to update your information, you end up at the scammer's web site. By 'updating' your information on this web site, you are actually giving the criminal all the information he needs to empty your bank account, steal your identity, ruin your credit and basically make your life hell.
- If you are using Windows 2000 or XP, go to Control Panel, Automatic Updates and turn on Automatic Updates. This will set Windows to automatically download and install security updates to itself whenever a new security hole is found. This alone will save you from many attacks that take advantage of security holes in Windows that are constantly being discovered.
- Do NOT use Internet Explorer to browse the web. This browser is highly insecure and is frequently the source of the spyware, adware, and virii installed secretly on your machine. Use Firefox instead. It works just as well as Internet Explorer (better in fact) and does not have the security risks that Internet Explorer does.
- Do NOT use Outlook Express as an email program. Use Thunderbird instead. Thunderbird has MUCH better spam handling, is more secure, and will often catch phishing emails when they are sent and warn you before you click on the links.
- If you have young kids, install filtering software such as Net Nanny. There is WAY too much porn and other questionable material out there that young children should be subjected to.
- If you have young kids, WATCH EVERY MOVE THEY MAKE ONLINE. Yes this an 'invasion of their privacy'. Tough. If you see them doing something you don't like, stop them. Do not put the computer in their room where they can do things in private. Put it in a public place in the house where things can be monitored.
- Create separate user accounts on your computer for each kid. Set these accounts to NOT have administrative priveleges. Restrict these accounts to the minimum features possible. Let them surf the web, read email, and do IM. That's IT. Do NOT let them install software. Do not let them have administrator access (or know your administrator password). If they need to install software they have to ask you first. This will minimize the installation of adware and spyware and prevent them from trying to get around your filtering software too!
- Be very WARY of any site that has links to WMF (Windows Meta File) images. If you see a site with these and your browser asks what to do with the WMF file, DO NOT view it or do anything with it. WMF files are the source of an exploit that has been running rampant on the internet lately. If these WMF files are viewed, you stand the chance of having spyware or adware installed secretly on your computer.