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Many things we use are tools - vehicles, silverware, hammers, phones. All tools require operator knowledge. The operator or user needs to know the purpose of the tool and how to use the tool safely. Your home computer is a tool. It has many purposes unique and identical to each user. The basics of safety associated with your home computer remain the same even though technology continues to change. Your home computer should not be considered a home entertainment center even though it can be used as a television, telephone, DVD/CD player, or game console. Entertainment centers do not interact with people in real time as your home computer can using the features of instant messaging, chatrooms, or VoIP (voice over internet protocol). Maintaining your safety and the safety of your family using a computer connected to the internet requires two things - everyday common sense and some basic user (or operator) knowledge.
We already know what we can do with a computer - shop, conduct business, communicate with family and friends, complete projects and homework, renew state licenses, research a subject of interest play games and many other things. Do we know how to do this safely?
Even though there are rules for driving and maintaining a vehicle, being in your own home, or in a public place, there is no guarantee thatthe vehicle you are in will not have an accident, your house will not be burglarized, or you will not be mugged walking down a street. These things are not everyday occurrences for each person. The same is true with our home computers connected to the internet. There is not clear cut rule that says "if you do this, then only this will happen". When safety precautions become a daily habit, your risk and chances of becoming a victim are greatly reduced.
The only difference between cybercrime and the crime we already try to protect ourselves from everyday is the use of a computer as a necessary tool to complete the crime, or a computer network as the target of the crime. Cybercriminals can be anyone of any age with computer skills ranging from basic to very experienced. Visit the Computer Crime Research Center crime-research.org, the US Strategy to Secure Cyberspace whitehouse.gov/pcipb/, and the FTC's OnGuard Online website onguardonline.gov.
The junk mail and chain letters you receive in your mailbox are the spam you receive in your email. Company trademarks and copyrights are still being violated whether it is in the form of an illegal download or used illegally on stationery or a website. Stalkers, pornographers and pedophiles can enjoy their thrills without leaving the comfort of their home.
People do not change. The same kinds of people you meet in your everyday life are available on the internet. Everyone is responsible for their own safety and the safety of their family. Each person learns preventative safety procedures as they mature - how to cross a street to avoid being hit by a vehicle or how to get vaccinations to avoid sickness.
So, each internet use must learn preventative safety procedures to protect themselves and their family from bad strangers, computer infectors, computer intruders, fraudulent activity, identity theft, and any unforeseen situation that can be a potential danger to personal safety and the safety of your monies and property. Your online safety does not depend on your age, race, gender, marital status, economic status, operating system or your level of computer experience.
Use an extension between your computer and phone line or broadband modem so you can easily connect and disconnect the connection without harming from constant use the sensitive connectors of your computer and modem. Any computer with a connection available to the internet is susceptible to intruders although your chances drastically reduce when you use firewalls, anti-virus software, and intrusion detection software. Another option is to disconnect the electricity from your computer when you are not using it. However, besides being impractical, constantly disconnecting the electricity reduces the life of your computer's internal battery.
Don't open email attachments without first using anti-virus and anti-spyware software then confirming with the sender by a separate email or phone call they actually did send the attachment. If they did not, remind them to use their anti-virus and anti-spyware software and disinfect their computer if necessary.
Just as you do not daily carry with you all your (or your family's) credit cards, social security cards, or safe deposit box keys, don't store any personal or sensitive information (including passwords and credit card/banking information) on your computer's hard drive. Store this information on removable media so it is available when you need it.
Don't respond to any official looking email warnings or requests to provide or update account numbers, logon information, account information, banking information, passwords, your address or phone number, or social security numbers from any seemingly reputable company - your bank, retail stores, brokers, the IRS, etc. Never provide any information in an email that you do not want available to strangers. Phishing scams are fishing for your personal information to be used for criminal purposes ranging from removing monies from your accounts to stealing your identity. To check whether the company actually sent you the email, telephone the company directly or close your email program (don't click on a link in the email) and go to their website in your usual fashion and logon.
Avoid any unsolicited correspondence from persons you do not know in email and your instant messaging program. Many persons still tend to believe something they see or read on the internet more readily than if they were to receive the same correspondence on the telephone, the street corner, or in the mail. These persons get duped into believing they won a lottery or prize, or are convinced they can save an unbelievable amount of money purchasing medicine, software, or other products through an email advertisement, or how wonderful someone from such a prestigious organization would single them out online (most likely a Nigerian scam). The reality is that the senders of spam (not all unsolicited emails) are most likely buying bulk email lists or using software to generate random email addresses and then just wait for responses. Unfortunately, until each internet user recognizes the fraud in spam, spam will continue to be lucrative and ongoing.
Don't respond to an offer (usually by email) for the same product or service you missed at an auction for a better price requesting your monies be sent through a service such as Western Union[R] or a cashier's check.
Maintain and use the most recent security patches and security updates for your operating system and all installed programs.
Keep the children's computer in the room that is most often occupied by family members with the monitor facing everyone. This helps to discourage "secret" conversations and friendships that child predators so desperately seek. This also helps adults to see where children are online and whom they are communicating with.
Consider the internet another daily activity that requires parental supervision.
Avoid immediately anyone online who asks you to keep secret any information, conversations or relationships.
Online friends do not need to know what you look like. Online friends should be considered acquaintances like pen pals rather than neighborhood friends.
Don't post your personal information at websites, guestbooks, forums, family homepages with or without biographical information, newsgroups, chatroom profiles, instant messaging profiles, or in email. Your personal information includes your legal name, last name, address, phone, marital status, occupation, financial/banking/credit card information, social security numbers, passwords, logon information and other usernames.
You can use filtering software with your children's online identities that have the options to prevent children from posting or emailing personal information and pictures.
Be aware of offers or information you receive online in chatrooms, forums, newsgroups, websites or email that could result in someone visiting your home or office, asking you to attend a meeting or gathering, or require an immediate response requiring your financial, banking, credit or social security information.
Display respect for yourself and others in public places, including the internet. Don't use obscene or confrontational language. Remember that the person you are emailing can not see you or the expressions on your face. So, be careful with your words and the jokes or sarcasms you write. An angry response will most likely produce another angry response. Avoid flame wars by not responding repeatedly to an angry person corresponding with you. If you are in a discussion group, forum, or chatroom that is making you uncomfortable, leave and disconnect from the internet. Then, reconnect. If you received a private answer to your question or comments in a forum, chatroom, or newsgroup, have the courtesy to post the response you received.
Consider the recipient of your email. Do not send a document or graphic attachment that they can not open because of a different operating system, lack of a program needed, or poor local telephone service. If they have a slower or older computer, do not send them an attachment that will cost them an hour or two simply waiting for your email to download to their inbox. Type a one- to three-word description or topic in the subject line of your email. Keep your message short or add the word "LONG" or "LENGTHY" of the end of the subject line. Don't use all capital letters. The reader will most likely interpret all capital letters as shouting. Strive for brevity and clarity. Refrain from clicking the "Reply" button. Instead, summarize the major points of the letter received as you answer them. This reduces the amount of traffic on the email servers. Keep your digital or typed signature short. Check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Most browsers have a feature to check spelling.
When using the internet, use your common sense. If someone you do not know asked or told you the same thing in the grocery store, at work, in the library, in the park, at an auction, at the doctor's office, or any other place, how would you react? Computers and the internet are tools. Use them to have fun, accomplish what is important, what you need to do, and most importantly, to enhance your everyday life.
Computer security is protection against unauthorized entry and retrieval of electronic information. Try to consider your computer a "limited summary" of your life. It contains your likes, dislikes, places and stores you visit, personal information, account and credit card information, personal correspondence, and, I'm sure, other personal information you can list.
Many people believe that hackers (strangers that gain access to your computer) would probably just look around, find nothing of interest and leave. This is not different than a stranger passing by your house and deciding to come in and look around. Perhaps this is what hackers want to do to impress their friends. However, there are instances where the results can be a bit more serious.
There is no guarantee that if you follow every safety preventative suggestion, your computer will be 100% secure. This is not different than crossing the street and being hit by a vehicle after looking in each direction. This does not happen everyday and maybe it will never happen to you in your lifetime. But, how much of a risk are you willing to take?
The only 100% guarantee of online safety is for your computer to be physically disconnected from the internet. However, while your computer is in use or connected to the internet or not in use with the computer connected to the phone line or broadband modem, there are precautions you can practice to minimize your chances of computer infection or intrusion. How many precautions, if any, you practice on a daily basis is your decision.
In both everyday and internet life, our individual safety rests with each of us. We can and should take precautions to minimize risk. And, we also can contact the proper professional (medical, legal, law enforcement) should we suspect anything bad happening.
Reasons for intruding and infecting home computers are as numerous and varied as there are criminals (hackers, virus authors, fraudsters). Some hackers with honorable intentions want to demonstrate the insecurity of particular networks and computers. However, without the permission of the owner of the network or computer, or without a court order, hacking is a crime in the United States. It does not matter if you are playing a practical joke on a friend by getting their email before they do, stealing (taking without permission from the owner) information (confidential information, music) or monitoring the activities of someone you are not legally responsible for (such as an estranged spouse) on a computer you do not own. These three are examples of intrusion without permission of the owner of the computer or network.
Some reasons for infecting and intruding home computers can include: the rampant spread of infectors to disable as many home computers as possible to generate an internet attack; to use unprotected home computers as a storage place for illegal information or data; the retrieval of personal information to impersonate the particular computer user for the purpose of shopping or leaving damaging conversations and reputations posted online; and, bulk emailings of questionable content (defamatory, unsuitable for children) disguised to be sent from the home computer user. The digital signatures law enforcement follows to identify the culprit could possibly lead them to your computer. The chances of your computer being used in this fashion are relatively slim. But, with the increasing availability of broadband where the transmission speeds are faster and the internet address of the home computer is unique compared to dial-up where the speed is slower and the individual internet address belongs to the internet service provider, the chances of a home computer being identified in a criminal scheme are increasing.
There are basic safety precautions you can incorporate into your daily internet routine as you do with your daily everyday routine.
Use an extension cable or cord between your computer and phone line or modem so you can easily connect and disconnect the connection without harming from constant use the sensitive connectors of your computer and phone line or broadband modem. Any computer with a connection available to the internet is susceptible to intruders although your chances drastically reduce when you use firewalls, anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Another option is to disconnect the electricity from your computer when you are not using it. However, besides being impractical, constantly disconnecting the electricity reduces the life of your computer's internal battery.
Include in your internet routine on a regular schedule the installation of security patches and updates for your operating system and installed programs (including firewalls and anti-virus software). These patches and updates are available from the software vendor's website. To find out if security patches and updates are available, pay attention to the news and regularly visit the vendor's website. Don't respond to any patches or updates in email even if the email looks like it is from a reliable source or the software vendor. The email is not from the software vendor. Even opt-in newsletters from security and anti-virus companies do not include the patch download itself. The actual security patch download is found only at the software vendor's website.
If you know how to create folders, save information to folders that you create. Leave the original default folders where they are. The reason for this is if your particular computer becomes infected that is told to infect files in particular program default folders, the infector will not be able to infect files that are not there.
Try to keep email addresses that should be in your computer's email address book in a separate file that you create and type or "cut and paste" when you need to use them. Should your computer get an infector that sends itself to everyone or the first "so many" in your address book, there will be no addresses to send itself to.
Excerpted from INTERNET SAFETY FAMILY GUIDE by Victoria Roddel Copyright © 2006 by Victoria Roddel. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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