Top Eleven Tips for Safe Computing by Jeff Mayer

Probably the greatest threat to the security of your computer system is ... human behavior. Let's face it, we humans do stupid things! A majority of the viruses, bugs, spyware, spam and other nasties can be avoided or reduced by modifying our behavior on the Internet. Read the following 11 suggestions for practicing safe surfing:

1. Do not visit shady looking web sites. (You know the ones I mean!)

2. Do not click on links in pop-up windows. Even if they tell you that your pc is infected or has a problem that you must fix immediately! It's a scam. Internet Explorer, Firefox and Opera browsers feature pop-up blockers - be sure to turn them on.

3. Do not click on links in emails. If you really wish to visit the site shown, type it in the address bar of your web browser by hand. It's probably a good idea when entering the web address to ignore any characters to the right of .com (or .net, .org, etc.).

4. Do not respond to spam (junk email) - just delete it. If you respond, then you are telling the spammer that he has reached a valid email address. Never click on any links that say something like "To unsubscribe, click here". That's just what they want you to do.

5. Do not respond to or click on links in emails that look exactly like email from your bank, credit card company, retail stores, insurance companies, etc.. This is called phishing.

Phishing is the act of sending an email to a user falsely claiming to be a legitimate enterprise? This is an attempt to scam the user into surrendering private information that will be used for identity theft. The email directs the user to visit a web site where they are asked to update personal information, such as passwords and credit card, social security, and bank account numbers, that the legitimate organization already has.

The web site is bogus and set up only to steal the user's information. Once you visit their site, they'll try to get private data from you, like passwords. These web sites can look identical to your own trusted sites. If you really wish to visit the site shown, type it in the address bar of your web browser by hand. When in doubt, call the institution on the phone.

6. Do not open attachments in emails, even from friends. Certain viruses can access someone's address book and copy the email addresses found there. Then they can send you email that looks exactly like it came from your Aunt Tilly using a technique called address spoofing. If you need someone to email you an attachment, make sure they tell you about it first or request it from them in advance.

7. Do not use your home or primary email address to fill out forms or subscribe to services on the Internet. Get a free email account from Google or Yahoo for these purposes.

8. Shop online from reputable companies only. It's safe to use your credit card to pay for purchases online at any store as long as when you check out, you see a little gold lock in the lower right corner of your browser. This means that the transaction is secure. If you don't see this lock - DO NOT CONTINUE WITH THE PURCHASE!

The lock is not just a picture. Click on it to see details of the site's security. This is important because some fraudulent web sites will imitate the lock icon of your browser. It's also a good idea to use the same credit card for all of your online shopping. If there is ever a problem, all you have to do is cancel that one card.

9. DO NOT GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION LIKE SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS, BANK ACCOUNT NUMBERS OR CREDIT CARD NUMBERS (unless you're making a secure purchase) ON THE INTERNET! Any web site or email asking you for this information is trying to rip you off!

10. Do Not Respond to emails from foreign governments (like Nigeria) asking you to help them recover millions of dollars. The list of unfortunate souls who have lost their life savings to this scam is very long.

11. Do not download music, movies or software from illegal sources such as Kazaa, Limewire and others. It's a sure fire way to pick up viruses and spyware. Stick to legal sources such as iTunes or Napster.

Jeff Mayer is a Web Developer with over 28 years of computer experience. Senior's Guide to Computers is designed to teach senior citizens, kids, moms and dads all about computers.

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