Safe-surfing! Kind of sounds like “safe-sex”! In today’s electronic landscape, one beg’s the question, is there such a thing??? It is with great relief that I announce today, that YES! There is such a thing as safe-surfing!
Safe-surfing involves several key behaviours and understandings. The first and perhaps both the most important and yet the most shocking and even offensive understanding to some, is that not everyone on the Internet has benevolent purposes. I can’t stress enough, that roaming the Internet is very much like travelling downtown. There are streets you wouldn’t walk down in broad daylight, let alone at night, and there are areas of the Internet you should steer clear of as well. There are stores you wouldn’t walk into on the street, and there are websites you should not visit online. There are phone calls you would not entertain and there are emails you should not open!
Let’s begin with sending and receiving email. There are roughly 4 types of email every person receives every day: email from friends, newsletters of various types, spam, and malicious email. (Spam is the name given to junk mail on the Internet. It has no relation to the meat in the tin you buy at the store.) Those last two often combine into blended threats whereby spam is used as the vehicle to infect people’s PC’s and/or steal their identity.
The simplest way to avoid infecting your computer with unwanted email content, is simply to not open any email that looks suspicious, no matter who it claims to come from! This requires two behaviours: 1) Pay attention to how your friends and newsletter contacts write, so that you can spot when their email address has been spoofed by a spammer. 2) Turn off the preview/reading pane in your email client, so that it takes a double-click to open the emails you really want to read, and only a single-click to select those you wish to delete.
Now let’s go over tactics that get you opening these emails. The first is to impersonate your contacts. This is done by adding their email address in place of the sender’s own. It’s called spoofing because a close look at the expanded email header will reveal the email actually came from elsewhere. An experienced tech can show you what this looks like. The logic figures if you think a friend sent it to you, the chances increase that you’ll open it.
A second way they get you to open spam is using attention-grabbing subject lines. Take the current disaster over in Japan. Cyber criminals are all over this crisis, referring to it in their subject lines. If you don’t recognize the sender, scrutinize the subject line. Is it spelled properly? Does it sound “too good to be true”? Is it sensational? Don’t even open these emails, highlight them, and in most email programs, right-click and send to the spam/junk box!
A third trick to get you to open email is to impersonate banks, investments, and other sites critical to online access to your financial assets. These are phishing emails, the term used to trick you into handing over your login credentials so they can steal your money and your identity! If an email appears to come from your bank and you open it, don’t follow any links! Instead, go directly to your bank’s website in a browser, to see if what is in the email is really from your bank or not. It’s better to err on the side of safety, than to phone your bank asking where your savings went!