General Web Safety

With so much of our daily activities relying upon a connection to the Internet it is as important as ever to remain vigilant in our efforts to be safe while surfing.  It seems as though every day we hear another story about a new virus or  malware wreaking havoc on the Internet.  Truly, such news stories and viral outbreaks are never to be eradicated under our current conditions – and certainly not while daily use of the Internet continues to grow. So what’s a surfer to do to avoid becoming and Internet statistic? Here are a few tips to help you along your way…

Pay Attention to Verbiage

I still find it amazing that most viruses and malware programs spread as the direct result of a human being clicking a link or downloading a file.  Such was the case with a recent Facebook malware outbreak that spread through bogus links to videos and the like. The sad truth is that such outbreaks can be easily avoided by paying attention to the verbiage in the links.  Most often times there will be improper uses of grammar and obvious misspellings in the text describing the links.  Another obvious sign of a hoax is an overly generic description such as “cool video” or “check this out”.  Such generic phrases are often associated with viruses and malware because many users don’t take the time to actually read and consider a link before clicking.  The malware program eluded to earlier relied on people’s trust in their Facebook friends and the content they post.  However, the ironic thing is that in many cases the text accompanying the links included “short text” (i.e.: lol, ttyl, omg, btw, rotfl) that the users who supposedly posted the links would never use.  So a simple tip to remember is to carefully read what the link is promising and be on the lookout for extremely poor grammar and take a moment to consider whether or not someone you know would actually say the things in the description.

Got Kids? Protect Them with OpenDNS

I am a father of 4 great kids and I have every intention of keeping them that way. There is a lot of great information on the Internet and many things that can be very beneficial to them.  However, as we all know, there is a whole lot of bad on the Internet. I would venture to say that there are more BAD things on the web than good.

So how do you protect your children (or anyone else that connects to your network) from being exposed to the bad?  There are many different software programs on the web that help you to protect each computer in your house, but in my estimation, they fall short in that they only protect the computer upon which they are installed. This is fine if you are certain that the ONLY computers in your house are the ones you are aware of.  This says nothing of Wi-Fi enabled devices such as personal gaming devices, game consoles, and other Wi-Fi enabled devices such as tablets, readers, iPods, etc.  How do you ensure that those devices will not have access to the content you are trying to block?  For me, the answer is OpenDNS, a free DNS-Based Web Sercurity Service that makes it impossible for anyone using your Internet connection to access blocked content and sites.  It is relatively easy to set up and has a  web-based management portal that allows you to control the settings of several networks.  Plus, OpenDNS is regularly updated and monitored by actual humans. This is really the only web-security service that I recommend.

“I have an antivirus program installed so I am ok.”

This is another area that often causes me to stop and wonder what people are thinking. The general mindset is that most people believe they are safe because they have an antivirus program installed on their computer – but in many cases those same people have no idea when the software was last updated and what program they are using.  While I am not diminishing the usefulness of free antivirus programs I do feel the need to repeat the age-old axiom, “You get what you pay for.”  So what’s the problem with free antivirus software? For starters, they don’t always automatically update themselves leaving the unsuspecting user unprotected from the latest virus and malware programs.  Another problem is that updates are not always immediately available to free subscribers – again, leaving the unsuspecting user unprotected. There are many other more technical reasons that a free antivirus program is not the best choice for serious web users, but I will not bore you with them.  The bottom line is that I (and any other IT pro) highly recommend you buy a well-known antivirus / security program and keep up with the annual subscription.

Another misconception about antivirus / security programs worth mentioning is that it is only as effective as you let it be.  To illustrate this point, consider that your antivirus program is much like a security system to your home.  That home security system will function as it should as long as it is engaged and the potential perpetrator is OUTSIDE the  house.  If you give someone the code to your security system and let them in your home the best security system in the world is useless.  That is what happens when you click a link or install a program that your security software warns you about.  Ignoring warnings from security programs lets the “bad guys” in and compromises your security – so be careful to pay attention to any and all warnings you receive from your security software.

My personal favorite is Zone Alarm Security Suite – it runs well in all Microsoft PC environments and doesn’t suck up a bunch of system resources.

Password Security

Years of experience in Information Technology and the management thereof has given me a lot of insight on the lockimportance of  secure passwords.  In an effort to pass along some of those insights, here are a few password “do’s and don’ts.” It is certainly not exhaustive but I hope it helps you in your digital life. Also be sure to see the list of “Top 10 Passwords” at the bottom of the page.

  • Never do this… The number one, top-of-the-list, worst thing to do with your password is… to always use the same one! Let me be clear that what I am saying that that you should use different passwords for each site to which you log in.
    • As a side-note, you would not believe how many times I was told someone’s primary password when setting up an email account or network login. Upon my asking someone for a password about 65% of them would respond, “Oh, let’s just use (_ fill in the blank _), it’s what I use for everything.” Let’s stop and consider what that person just did – they gave me their most commonly-used password! The one they use for “everything.”  Not a good idea because with that password an unscrupulous IT person could easily steal  your identity and/or rob you blind! It’s a good thing I’m honest guy and have a short memory!
  • Use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. This is an important piece of good password security. The longer a password is and the more complicated it is, the more difficult it is to guess. However, you still need to be able to remember it, so unless you’re good at remembering long strings of random characters, it helps to throw in a capital letter, number and special character.  For example, if you wanted to use the state in which you live (Montana for me, denial could work too, I suppose) you can change it up like so: MonT@nA! or M()nTan@! or M0NTana~.  I think you get the point.  Use something you’ll remember, but make it hard to guess.
  • Use at least 8 characters. Short passwords are easier to guess, so a word at least 8 characters long.
  • Don’t write it down and leave it by your computer. Nowadays there are lots of opportunities for people to be in our homes and offices. If you write down your password on a yellow sticky note along with the username and address of the website you are asking for trouble.  Just don’t do it.  Get a password-protected program to keep track of them. One that I use on my BlackBerry that syncs with my computer is called “SplashID.”

Top Ten Most Commonly Used Passwords

PCMagazine did some research back in 2007 and came up with a list of the 10 most commonly used passwords.  If your password is in the list, it’s best to call your bank immediately and shut down your computer.

1. password
2. 123456
3. qwerty
4. abc123
5. letmein
6. monkey
7. myspace1
8. password1
9. blink182
10. (your first name)

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