Tips on Making Wise Choices Online

Last time I said that the other half the answer to safe surfing online relies on you to make wise choices. What choices was I talking about?

First off, why do you want to use the Internet? Are you there for business, for friendship, dating, or recreation? Are you researching to solve a question or a project you’re working on? Each type of Internet use comes with its perils.

Walking into the Red Light district downtown means possibly walking out with an STD, wounds from a fight, or worse. In the same way, looking for relationships or recreation in the wrong places online can result in coming away with scars on your emotional well-being, or worse, malware infections on your PC, captured banking data, and login info that someone has decided to use against your financial picture!

It is imperative for the health of your PC to avoid so-called Adult sites, warez sites where you can obtain pirated software, and music sites offering free downloads. Peer-to-peer file sharing sites have repeatedly infected many computers by way of trojans written to look like mp3 files.

Maybe you’re there doing research. Often, research involves a search engine, and visiting results that appear close to what you’re after. Pay attention to the information given about each link before you click it! One tool that can help in making a wise choice is WOT and they have plugins for all the major browsers. You will have a greater chance of avoiding trouble by wisely considering the URL itself. Is it typed correctly? Does it sound like it would carry the info you are wanting? Does the title relate to what you’re after? Is it mistyped? Does the short blurb in the search results relate to your query, or to something else entirely? When the answers are correctly typed, related to your query, etc, then go ahead and click the link. But even if all the answers are go, actually hitting the website may reveal otherwise if it was a carefully crafted spammy search result! So be ware!

Adding to the choices are Instant Messaging (IM) and social networking. Instant messaging (think AOL, MSN, YahooIM, ICQ, Skype, Jabber, GoogleTalk, etc) has risen in popularity quickly and sometimes concurrently, with the rise of social networking. It doesn’t matter what IM you’re using, or what social network you’ve joined, the need to make more choices is now presented!

Social networking is now a very lucrative way of infecting PC’s, installing backdoors, and stealing ID’s. The same naivety surrounding email explodes in the social space because people WANT to trust their friends! In past millenia this want was ok, even desirable, and got very few people into trouble. But in the information age, in the age of cyber-crooks, hackers, and other felony, the landscape has changed.

Some people join multiple networks, letting a crook discover that in one network, a certain friend is not present, so they fake a profile of said person to join your friends list. Other people friend anyone who asks or shares a common belief, without having ever met them before. In both cases, credibility is not established, a person’s nuances in communication and presentation are not observed, and hackers are benefiting!

Then there is what people or hacked accounts of people, are sharing with others! Images, videos, pdf files, music files, and links to websites are often not what they seem anymore. It is imperative to be skeptical about overly hyped info no matter where you find it! If it doesn’t match how a person normally communicates or their values, etc, then they either made the mistake of clicking a bad link, spamming it to their entire list as a result, or a hacker got their account and used it to send spam. Either way, its important to truly know your friends idiosyncrasies so you can spot when a link is really from them! Don’t blindly click something because a friend claims to have shared it with you. Always verify!

Knowing how to handle Email, social networking, instant messaging, and learning to spot fakes, are extremely important!

But how do you spot a fake?

A few years ago, a new malware infection tried to hit people who use the Firefox browser, by pretending the user was looking at a Windows Update page. This kind of threat won’t work on the watchful Windows user. It is important to remember that you can’t get to the Windows Update page without using either Internet Explorer, or the internal update feature found in Windows 7.

Similarly, if you are visiting a website and suddenly a window comes up claiming you have a ton of infections, no matter how official the window may look, immediately close your browser and toss your browser’s temporary files and cookies. . . (don’t worry, tossing a browser’s cookies won’t make a mess all over your keyboard). The only window that should EVER come up telling you about infections is the antivirus program that YOU installed!

It bears repeating while we’re talking about choices, to always scan any file you download for potential malware, BEFORE you open it! This way if you accidentally download a trojan, you’ll catch it before it catches you!

Phishing emails can be harder to spot. But if you use Opera Mail, you’ll be alerted any time a URL is NOT going to the apparently promoted location on the web.

Lastly, if you come across a claim on the Internet that sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Don’t click on it or respond to it in any way! Ignore it and carry on with your desired activity.

This bring us to the end of this series on staying safe in a connected world. No doubt new threats and new ways of presenting them will appear in the future, but these articles are a good jump off point to helping you stay safe as you enjoy the wonderful world wide web and all it has to offer!

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