In the world of the cyber criminal, the rest of us often forget just how at risk we are. We don’t realize that our computers are considered lucrative targets by those who would take advantage of our vulnerabilities. Most people think that if they aren’t wealthy or if they don’t have assets worth taking then they are safe. They think that because their computer came with software like Norton or McAfee then there is no real need to give the security of their home system another thought.
Those who would infect your computer aren’t just out there to steal YOUR information. They know that by gaining access to your computer, they can monitor your every key stroke. They can see what username and passwords you use for everything, not just financial. This allows them to create a world of opportunity for themselves and all on YOUR computer.
Look at it this way- if they can take over your computer then doesn’t that mean that they can use it to do whatever they want? Suddenly, you have the FBI knocking at YOUR door because it was your system that they traced. How would you go about combating that charge? I mean if the virus originated from your ISP address then, in their eyes, you are a suspect. Or look at another scenario- a hacker uses your saved key strokes to log on (as you) to your work’s intranet from your home computer under the guise of doing some work but instead they have gained access to your company’s internal and protected files. There is a different possibility- suddenly every single contact that you have on Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Google, Skype, AIM, everything: is going to get an email from YOU with a virus. Even if it isn’t your fault, who are they going to blame?
I have a few recommendations for those of you that think you are safe and for those of you that don’t.
First, turn off your computer if you aren’t using it. I don’t mean let it “sleep” or “hibernate”; I mean “shut down”. When your computer still has the power on but you aren’t using it, there is no need for it to be left on. One- it drains your electric bill. Two- it is still running. No, you may not be using it but the system itself is still up and going. By cutting the power supply to your computer, you prevent anyone from accessing it while you aren’t sitting in front of it. If all else fails, hit the switch on your surge protector to completely cut power.
Second, don’t access every website. Just because your friend posted a link with a funny line next to it does NOT mean that you have to visit the site. How many times have you seen a friend put just such a link up on Twitter or Facebook and then, the next day, post that they were hacked? I’ve lost count of the times this has happened to people that I know. Even if you receive a private message or email from a friend, don’t access the site. Answer their message and ask what it is that they want you to view. Facebook is dandy when it comes to posting links because they put a preview of the site up with the original post. If it isn’t legitimate, then there won’t be a preview.
Third, protect your browser. In your internet browser’s security settings, you need to limit what sites can be accessed. If it is going to be something for adult eyes only then password protecting isn’t going to be a big deal. The major reason however is that most browsers will warn you if you are going to be accessing a website that can’t be verified through security settings. It goes beyond using a pop-up blocker. Some of the most well known corporations today have had their websites compromised by hackers and simply going to their site can mean your system has become at risk for a virus and malware.
Fourth, BUY ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE! I don’t mean once either. I mean annually. Buying a computer means that you are allowing a portion of your private life to be accessible via the internet. You have to protect yourself! Using the anti-virus software that comes with your system isn’t going to keep you safe. It is usually only a trial offer. It is the lowest rung of the ladder of self-protection. Oh and it expires. You have to renew your subscription to keep getting the latest versions of these programs. Most of them will automatically update throughout the time of your subscription and they will warn you if you haven’t scanned your computer for a period of time or if something is found. For the scan, I set up mine to do so every time I turn my system on. Yes, it does slow down the initial start-up but better to be safe than sorry. As for the “if something is found”, most anti-virus programs will isolate whatever the file is from the rest of your computer. It will then allow you to decide whether or not it should be removed from your system.
No one wants to feel like they are at risk when they are online. No one wants to admit that they are putting themselves at risk. Just remember that it is diligence and forethought that will keep your identity, your computer, your email, and even your friends safe. It is four simple steps to online safety and even those are 100% guarantees. But at least they are steps in the right direction.