Computers and the internet have changed our world. We now can work, learn, play, socialize, shop and manage our daily lives online, without leaving the comfort of our own homes.
But not everyone we interact with online is trustworthy. Some people use the Internet to anonymously harass or annoy others, to damage computer systems or data, or even to commit crimes.
Fortunately, some simple steps can help you avoid becoming a victim. By knowing what to look for, taking precautions, and using protective tools, you can enjoy the benefits of the Internet6t while keeping yourself, your family, your computer data and your personal information safe and secure.
Depending on how you use the Internet, you may be taking unnecessary risks. You might be at risk of identity theft (when someone steals and uses your personal information, perhaps to open new credit accounts); data theft or damage; or personal safety threats (sometimes called cyberstalking or cyberbullying).
Here are some of the ways crooks and con artists find victims online:
Phishing-an attempt to "hook" you into revealing your personal and confidential information by sending bogus emails that appear to come from a legitimate business.
Spam-unwelcome email and instant messages, which may offer questionable goods for sale or a promise of financial rewards if you give the sender money.
Malware-malicious software (spyware, Trojans, viruses and worms) that can be remotely installed on your computer, allowing the person who controls the malicious software to steal, damage or delete your files and other data.
Transactions that are not secure-sites that don't have secure payment forms, or companies that store debit and credit card information without proper safeguards, may give crooks the opportunity to intercept your personal information.
Social networking-users may be at risk if they reveal too much personal information, or if they agree to physically meet people they first met online. Some social networking sites might even compromise sensitive personal information.
There are many ways that someone can gain access to your personal information. Fortunately, there are also many ways for you to protect yourself.
Use a firewall. A firewall is a virtual barrier between your computer and the Internet. Everything coming into or leaving your computer must go through the firewall, which blocks anything that doesn't meet specific security criteria.
Install antivirus software. Antivirus software scans everything that goes into your computer, looking for known viruses.
Install antispyware software. Spyware is software that tracks your computer activity, gathering information without your knowledge.
Use a spam filter. Most Internet service providers and email programs now include an automatic spam filter, which reduces the number of unwelcome email messages that make it to your inbox. Delete, without opening, any spam or "junk mail" that gets through the filter.
Perform timely updates. Computer and software companies frequently update their programs to include protection against the newest security threats. So, simply updating your operating system and software whenever new versions become available gives you an added measure of security.
Create strong passwords. A strong password includes a seemingly random string of letters, numbers and symbols. It should never include personal information, such as your birth date, address or pet's name.
Secure your wireless network. Leaving your network "unlocked" means that anyone within range of your wi-fi signal can access it-and possibly capture the data you send and receive. Securing your wireless network can be as simple as creating a strong password for your router and enabling its built-in encryption tool.
The Internet is a valuable resource and tool, but caution must be exercised to insure that your online computer use is safe and secure. For more information, go to www.cosumer-action.org and scroll down to find recent publications about Internet safety.