A Beginners Guide To Internet Security

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Internet Security

It’s no secret that we’re spending and increasingly large amount of time on the internet. Whether we’re working, searching Google, sending an email, or connecting with friends on social media, we’re connected to the internet.

But the internet isn’t the same place it was was. Today over 30% of the worlds population logs on to the internet on a daily basis. With more than 2 billion people surfing the world wide web, it’s more important then ever to start prioritizing internet security by learning how to protect ourselves and our privacy online. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s address the basis:

What is Internet Security?

According to Wikipedia, internet security is a branch of computer security specifically related to the internet, often involving browser security but also network security.” The goal or objective of Internet Security is of course to protect and defend against malicious attacks from the internet. It’s important to understand that in general, the internet is an insecure channel for exchanging information which means there’s a high risk of intrusion or fraud when you’re online. Also keep in mind that your computer has a lot of valuable and personal information on it that scammers would love to get their hands.

Think of your computer like a brand new car parked in your driveway. You wouldn’t leave your car unlocked yet when it comes to our computers, many of us do exactly that. Strange, isn’t it?

Leaving your computer unprotected makes you an easy target for hackers and leaves you vulnerable to viruses, malware, while also putting you at risk for identity theft. Hackers are after your most valuable personal information. They want your credit card number and even your online banking details if they can get it.

Fortunately it’s not hard to protect yourself from the dangers of internet bad-guys. With a few free/cheap tools and some helpful information you’ll soon be more secure than you’ve ever been, leaving you free to enjoy all the internet has to offer.

Brief Explanation of Malware and Viruses

computer virusMalware, in case you’re not familiar with it, has been around since the beginning of the PC age. Malware exists to sneak onto your computer and infect the computer from within. By far the most popular type of Malware is a virus. Viruses are typically spread via email but they can also be hidden in unsafe downloads and documents. A worm, which is another form of a virus, doesn’t need to infect a file at all. It can actually spread on its on by taking advantage of a poor security setup on your computer.

The worst part about computer Viruses and worms is that they come with a payload. The worst kind of payload is called a rootkit which effective gives someone else remote access to your computer. That kind of access can be used to do almost anything! Yikes!

Another kind of payload that can come from Viruses and worms is called Spyware which hides on your computer while keeping an on everything you do while sending this information to the virus owner. Spyware can see almost everything! Including your credit card info and all other information you type into a web browser.

So you might be wondering, how doe this stuff get on my computer? Spyware can be put onto your computer by a virus or by an out-of-date web browser. Spyware can also be installed with software applications. If you’re frequently downloading from peer-to-peer downloading applications, some of your downloads may come with spyware.

An Example of Malware

I have a friend who recently got his computer infected by the the now famous “Interpol Virus” also known as “The uKash Scam.” Basically what happens is your computer is taken over by this ransomware virus which displays a lock screen notification pretending to be from Interpol Department of Cybercrime. Whenever you try to logon to Windows or Safe Mode with Networking, it locks your screen and claims that access to your PC is  blocked because of  illegal activities that have been detected on your computer. It then tries to get you to pay a non-existent fine of 100 euros to unlock you computer or else “you’ll be taken to court.”

Here’s a screenshot of what the virus looks like:

Interpol Virus

If you or someone you know has been infected by this Particular virus, DotFab.com has an excellent guide on how to remove it here.

Prevention

Preventing viruses, worms, and other spyware/malware from infecting your computer isn’t brain surgery. It’s actually quite easy to protect your computer if you’re willing to put in the effort.

The first thing you absolutely must do is stop using a vulnerable and out of date web browser. If you’re an Internet Explorer user I’m talking directly to you. You need to download a secure browser like Firefox or Google Chrome (personally I use chrome). It doesn’t matter which one you pick, what matters most is that you’re constantly updating the browser every time there’s a new update.

Next, you’re going to want some good security software. Don’t worry, this doesn’t have to cost you any money. If you’re a a Windows users, Microsoft Security Essentials is as good as some of the “expensive” security software on the market. It’s important to remember that new malware is created everyday so it’s crucial that you stay on top of updating your Security software.

Mac users need to worry less about Malware because most internet bad-guys are targeting PC users simply because more people use the Windows operating system than Apple’s OSX operating system. That doesn’t mean you Mac users shouldn’t be proactive. Apple as a company has been growing steadily over the past few years and there’s little doubt that hackers will start targeting Apple users with greater frequency.

Mac OSX comes with additional security features that are available in the Security & Privacy pane of System Preferences. Here you can turn on a firewall to prevent other machines from accessing services running on your mac. You can also click here to learn more about the security features on OSX

Phuck Fishing

Phishing is easily one of the most devastating scams you can come across online. A phishing scam is essentially a trick that convinces people to hand over private information to hackers. It normally happens when a fraudulent email appears in your inbox. It will be disguised as an email from your bank, eBay, Amazon, PayPal or other institution and the message will ask you to click a link and type in your personal information. You’d be surprised to learn how many people fall victim to this scam.

Phishing Scam Emails

As a rule of thumb, Banks and ecommerce sites will never ask you to confirm your password or fill out a form with your personal information via email. Also, check the URL of the site and if you feel it’s “phishy,” leave immediately.

Social Media isn’t always Safe

Facebook is one of the most visited sites on the internet so it should be no surprise that scammers are constantly trying to take advantage of the social media site to gain access to users personal information. You may be asked to install an application, download a program, or click the like button before accessing a page. Be cautious and stay away from unfamiliar applications.

In general, don’t click on a link or “authorize” an application to access your person details unless you’re positive you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Here’s a helpful resource from Facebook on staying safe and avoiding scams while on the social network.

In addition to Facebook, twitter is another site where you want to exercise caution. A lot of tweeting happens on a daily basis and you want to be sure you’re only clicking links that you’re familiar with. Here’s a support page on Twitter.com that offers great advice on ensuring your security when on Twitter.

Backup Software is a Good Idea

Imagine waking up one day and realizing that your hard drive has crashed and you’ve just lost a decades worth of photos, videos, and your entire music library. At that point you’ll be wishing you had everything securely backed-up. These days, most of what we do throughout our day is digitized leaving us at risk for losing a lot of data due to a hardware failure or through malware.

back up sotware

Luckily there are services like ZipCloud and Carbonite that cost just a few dollars per month and store your data on secure servers hosted in a safe and faraway facility. It’s definitely worth using one of these services.

Wireless Network Safety

According to the USA Today, 1 in every 4 US homes will fall victim to identity theft. Avoid becoming a statistic by protecting your home wireless network. Unsecured wireless networks leave you vulnerable to fraudulent credit card charges, unauthorized loans in your name, and network viruses that can destroy your computer and compromise your personal information.

Protecting your wireless network is not difficult and it s an important step to ensuring your security on the internet. The first thing you can do is change the admin password on your router regularly. This will make it harder for a hacker to get into your network. You can also protect yourself by limiting the strength of you network to the perimeter of your house. Ideally no one should be able to logon to your network from the street.

It’s also a good idea not to use WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy). This is not a secure level of encryption. Instead WPA encryption is preferred as it is more secure. It’s also a good idea to turn off SSID broadcasting. When enabled, this allows all wireless devices within range to access the network. When it is disabled, only users who have the access code (inserted in network settings) can see the network.

Protecting Your Privacy

With all this talk about the NSA watching our every online move, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Regardless what you’re doing online, it’s a good idea to try and protect your privacy. VPN (Virtual Private Network) software can help encrypt your internet connection so you can keep your browsing data safe from prying eyes. Companies like Hidemyass.com and IPVanish.com offer affordable software that connects you to a remote server, thus blocking your ISP or anyway else from making sense of your internet activity. For more information on Virtual Private Networks you can read this post.

Password Safety

It’s always a good idea to use strong passwords online. If possible make them at least 10 characters long, use both upper and lower case letters, include numbers, symbols if allowed, and try not to use works that can be found in a dictionary. I don’t need to be the one to tell you that “password” and “123456” are not strong passwords. It’s also a good idea to use different passwords for different accounts. There are many reputable “password managers” online that can help you do this without forgetting all your different passwords.

Recap and Conclusion

I know I threw a lot of information at you in this post. Perhaps you’ve heard some of this before and perhaps you also learned something new (I hope so at least). There’s no better time to start prioritizing internet security than today. In our increasingly digital world, we are spending more and more time connected to the internet leaving us more vulnerable than ever.

Here are some points to remember and keep in mind:

  • The objective of internet security is of course to protect and defend against malicious attacks from the internet.
  • Malware such as viruses and worms carry payloads that can give a hacker direct access to your computer.
  • You can prevent malware infections by updating your browser and staying away from Internet Explorer
  • There’s no need to pay top dollar for antivirus software when Microsoft and Apple offer free alternatives
  • Don’t enter any personal information into a link that was sent to you via email
  • When using social media, don’t click links you’re not familiar with and avoid applications you don’t know.
  • It’s a good idea to backup all your photos and valuable files with backup software before it’s too late
  • Wireless networks should be protected as much as possible to avoid identity theft.
  • Virtual Private Network (VPN) software makes you anonymous online thus protecting your privacy
  • Create strong passwords and don’t use the same password for all your online accounts.

Thanks for reading and remember to be safe while surfing!

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