Beginners guide to the Internet (Safe Surfing)

Time and time again whenever I am at a client’s office I always have clients ask me how to keep their home computer safe and secure on the internet. I’ve decided to put together a little “Beginners Guide to the Internet” together to provide you some information on how to keep your computer secure at home.

Please note: These instructions should ONLY be used on your home computer or home office computer. Businesses have special systems in place to secure and protect their network, and you should NEVER try to configure your own “Safeguards” on business systems as it may interfere with systems already configured.

Here’s a little guide to keeping your computer secured and safe on the internet:

-Run Windows Update!

Once every Wednesday run Windows Update. You can run this application by going to your start menu, browsing to “Programs” and selecting “Windows Update”. You don’t need to select any of the language packs, but it’s always a good idea to install all security updates. Keep in mind that there will also be updates for services packs, and other items which could enhance or increase functionality with your Microsoft Applications. Windows Update works by providing security patches for both your Windows Operating system, along with Microsoft applications closing known security holes that have been discovered.

-Make sure your 3rd party applications are kept up to date!

Regularly you should go online and check for updates for the various applications you have installed on your computer. Two prime examples are Adobe Flash, and Java. Just recently new security vulnerabilities were announced that allow malicious users to install malicious software on your computer just by simply viewing a website that contained Java. With most software developers, recent updates usually close known security holes.

-Make sure you have proper anti-virus protection

A big problem I see time and time again is out of date anti-virus software. Anti-Virus software can slow your computer down, significantly if you have a lot of data and programs installed on it, however this is a MUST. Whenever clients ask me what Anti-Virus software they should run on their home computer, I always recommend the Symantec products.

-Keep an eye out for suspicious things

I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with websites popping up claiming that they have detected viruses on your computer and recommend you scan using their software. These are FALSE warnings. Usually either trying to install malicious software on your computer, or trying to obtain your credit card number for malicious reasons. The only messages you should see pop up pertaining to real virus threats WILL NOT be displayed in a “Internet Explorer” window. Certain things like the icon on the top left of the window can give it away (for example this fake type of page shows the Internet Explorer icon).

-Confusing movies, music, and other media files which are actually applications

On a computer files typically have extensions. These extensions in some way show what the file is. “.EXE” is an executable for example, which “.MP3” is an mp3 audio file, and “.wmv” is a Windows Movie. Often I hear stories about how people will download a file thinking it is a video, or music clip, often turning out to be an application which is malicious and/or a virus. Keep an eye on these extensions! If you noticed a file having 2 extensions (such as “musicfile.mp3.exe”) it is a prime example that someone is trying to trick you into thinking it is an mp3 (audio file), when in reality it is an exe (executable file/program). ALWAYS look at the last 3 letters, anything before that is just un-related text.

-DO NOT DOWNLOAD ILLEGAL PIRATED COPIES OF SOFTWARE/MOVIES/MUSIC!!!

I can’t stress this enough. Not only is downloading copyright material illegal and BAD, it is also extremely dangerous for your computers security and safety. Most stories I hear are from friends who use a peer-to-peer sharing program to download music, and downloaded a song which was actually a virus (prime example of point 5 in this article above). Other users who try to download software illegally often have to open a “crack” file to remove the serial or cd-key protection on an application; in a lot of cases these “cracks” contain viruses and/or malicious software.

-Virus scan EVERYTHING that doesn’t come from a trusted source

Let’s say you download something from Microsoft.com, or Adobe.com, these websites are the legitimate sites for some very large software developers. You can almost bet the content is secure. However, if you do ever go surfing on the internet to find something and get lost in the world of links and you end up having to download something from a site (personal blog, entertainment site, etc…) it is ALWAYS a good idea to manually scan the file. Also, whenever your friends or family bring over a CD-Rom, or a USB key containing files, make sure you virus scan it before accessing anything on it.

-Know where you are surfing!

Phishing attacks have become a HUGE problem in the past few years. ALWAYS keep an eye on the URL (the website address box) in your web browser. Whether you are logging on to sites such as Facebook, Twitter, or your online banking, malicious users can create sites that look identical to the originals just to capture your username and password. Always look at the address bar to make sure it is the site you are at. If it a long url (address) and you are suspicious always examine the whole address. Since these malicious users are getting trickier, they have started to make URLs that look similar (example www.facebook.com/test/blabla.ru). You’ll notice in the example that even though the url contains facebook.com, it is actually a website on “.ru” which is Russian and probably a phishing site.

There’s my tip of the day!


Occupation: President of Digitally Accurate Inc.
Bio: 13 Year IT Service and Solution Provider, Managed Services Provider, Tech Blogger, Entrepreneur

Full biography available here.
Personal Technology Blog: https://www.stephenwagner.com

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