Proven Security Tips, Tools, and Tactics To Stay Safe Online (Part 1 of 2)

The Internet serves as an incredible tool for educators and students to communicate, research information, and learn. The widespread availability of computers and connections to the Internet provides everyone around-the-clock access to information, credit and financial services, and shopping.

Unfortunately, there exist individuals who exploit the Internet through their criminal activities and other harmful acts. Cybercriminals use creative measures to gain unauthorized access to your computer and then use that access to steal your identity, commit fraud, or even launch cyber attacks against others.

Staying safe online is no longer a given, but a necessary extracurricular activity. Here are nine security measures you can employ immediate to protect yourself, your family, and your business. By following the recommended cyber security measures outlined here, you can limit the harm cyber criminals can do not only to your computer, but to everyone's computer. However, keep in mind that there is no single cyber security measure or technological solution that will prevent their cybercrime. These recommended cyber security measures highlight that using a set of common-sense precautions that include Internet habits as well as technology solutions can make a difference.

The National Cyber Security Alliance recommends eight measures. To that, I have added an additional. They are practical steps, in no particular order, you can take to stay safe online and avoid becoming a victim of fraud, identity theft, or cyber crime.

1. Protect your children online. Implement parental control tools that are provided by some Internet Service Provider (ISPs) and available for purchase as separate software packages. Remember: No program is a substitute for parental supervision. Also check your browser to see if it would allow you to set some parental controls. (Internet Explorer allows you to restrict or allow certain web sites to be viewed on your computer, and you can protect these settings with a password. To find those options, click Tools on your menu bar, select Internet Options, choose the Content tab, and click the Enable button under Content Advisor.)

2. Back up important files regularly. No system is completely secure. If you have important files stored on your computer, copy them onto a removable disc, and store them in a secure place in a different building than your computer. If a different location isn't practical, consider encryption software. Encryption software scrambles a message or a file in a way that can be reversed only with a specific password. Also, make sure you keep your original software start-up disks handy and accessible for use in the event of a system crash.

3. Protect your valuable personal and financial information. Don't open unsolicited or unknown email messages. If you do get an email or pop-up message asking for personal information, don't reply or click on the link in the message. To avoid opening such messages, you can turn off the "Preview Pane" functionality in email programs, and you can set your default options to view opened emails as plain text to avoid active links or pop-ups in the messages. Most importantly, do not respond to solicitations for your personal or financial information.

If you believe there may be a need for such information by a company with whom you have an account or placed an order, contact that company directly in a way you know to be genuine. Never send your personal information via email because email is not a secure transmission method.

4. Use strong passwords or strong authentication technology to help protect your personal information. To further increase the security of your online identity and to help protect you from account hi-jacking, take advantage of stronger authentication tools wherever available. This may take the form of two-factor authentication - the combination of a password or PIN number (something you know) with a token, smart card, or even a biometric device (something you have).

Stronger authentication can also come from a behind-the-scenes identity-verification process, which uses various data to establish whether or not a user is genuine. Ask your bank, your regular online retailers, and your Internet Service Provider (ISP) if they offer stronger authentication tools for more secure transactions.

5. Know who you're dealing with online. Every day, millions of computer users share files online, either as email, documents, or photos. File-sharing can give people access to a wealth of information, including music, games, and software. You download special software that connects your computer to an informal network of other computers running the same software. Millions of users could be connected to each other through this software at one time. Often the software is free and easily accessible, but file-sharing can have a number of risks.

(a) If you don't check the proper settings, you could allow access not just to the files you intend to share, but also to other information on your hard drive, like your tax returns, email messages, medical records, photos, or other personal documents.

(b)In addition, you may unwittingly download pornography labeled as something else. Or you may download material that is protected by the copyright laws, which would mean you could be breaking the law.

Therefore, downloading file-sharing software is not advisable and could place your personal information and computer at risk. If you do decide to use file-sharing software, set it up very carefully. Take the time to read the End User License Agreement to be sure that you're sharing files legally and that you understand the potentially high risk of any free downloads. For example, some license agreements include an agreement to allow spyware to be installed on your machine.

Although the Internet basically provides a positive and productive experience, cyber-attacks against our personal privacy and security are reaching epidemic proportions. These attacks are occurring in our own homes and businesses. Our own computers are being used are being used as zombies to attack other people, businesses, and even our nation itself. As an average Internet user, you may not be aware of these threats nor have any idea about the dramatically increasing risks you face when connected to the Internet.

On a campaign for internet safety awareness and protection, my mission is to bring critical awareness to individuals, families, and small business owners, and to provide access to the necessary tools and ongoing expertise to secure your computer and help you stay protected.

I invite you to join the many thousands of others who have tested their computers, discovered these threats are real, and taken the necessary steps to protect themselves.

Now that you have become aware of these issues, I encourage you to share this vital information with your families, friends and communities. Together, we can reach many millions of people and inform them about the threats to their privacy and security, and help them get the protection they desperately need.

Remember: When you say "No!" to hackers and spyware, everyone wins! When you don't, we all lose!© MMVII, Etienne A. Gibbs, MSW, Internet Safety Advocate and Educator

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