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Internet Safety Guidelines

written by: •edited by: Brian Nelson•updated: 4/13/2009

Internet Safety is mostly everyday common sense applied to the tools of the internet. Here are some reminders.

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    The only difference between internet safety and everyday safety is the tools we use. Try to practice internet safety and cybercrime prevention with the same concern, common sense and enthusiasm you have for everyday crime prevention.

    Be Courteous

    Show respect for yourself and others in public places, including on the internet. If you received a private answer to your question or comments in a forum, chatroom, or newsgroup, have the courtesy to post the response you received. Try not to use obscene or confrontational language. Remember that the person you are emailing or sometimes texting can't see you or the expressions on your face. So, be careful with your words and the jokes or sarcasms you write. An angry response will most likely produce another angry response. Avoid flame wars by not responding repeatedly to an angry person corresponding with you. If you are in a discussion group, forum, or chatroom that is making you uncomfortable, leave and disconnect from the internet. Then, reconnect.

    Disconnect Yourself

    Use an extension cable between your computer and modem (dial-up, wireless, broadband or satellite) so you can easily connect and disconnect the cable without harming the sensitive connectors of your computer and modem from constant use. Any computer with a connection available to the internet is susceptible to intruders and infections although your chances drastically reduce when you use firewalls, encryption, anti-virus and anti-spyware software. One alternative is to shut off your computer when you are not using it. Another alternative is to disconnect the electricity from your computer when you are not using it. However, besides being impractical, constantly disconnecting and reconnecting the electricity reduces the life of your computer's internal battery.

    Back-up Data

    Back-up your personal files regularly just in case your computer is stolen or crashes. Use an external drive or removable media. Just as you do not carry on your person everyday all your (or your family's) credit cards, social security cards, or safe deposit box keys, don't store any personal or sensitive information (including passwords and credit card/banking information) on your computer's hard drive. Store this information on removable media or drive so it is available when you need it. Remember to store a back-up copy in a safe place.

    Update Regularly

    Use the most recent version of installed programs. The latest version of a program typically tries to fix known problems or security vulnerabilities with the previous version.

    Download and install current security fixes, updates and patches for your operating system and all installed programs (not only the programs you use regularly). Be sure to download the updates from the software manufacturer's website. Downloads directly from an email link (immediately downloading without being directed to the manufacturer's website) can be contain infections even if the email convincingly says otherwise. Vendors will send notices to opt-in subscribers through email when updates are available if they offer this service. The links in these emails will often go to the vendor's website. They are not direct links to the download.

    Check and maintain safety devices - fire alarms, burglar alarms, smoke detectors, backup power supplies, anti-virus software updates, operating system and installed program security updates. Take the time to practice safety procedures - fire exits, contacting emergency personnel for possible safety compromising situations in your everyday life and with internet activities, examine emails and everyday situations for infectors, scams and fraud.

    Use Firewalls

    Secure your computer. You lock your doors and windows to your home and car when you are not there. Do the same with your computer and electronic devices. Don't allow your home, car or computer to be available to strangers, intruders or thieves. Use firewalls, lock features, updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Be sure that both incoming and outgoing firewall protection is active.

    Try to maintain a separate home computer for confidential, business, and valuable information from children or persons who use file-sharing software or download "free" software regularly. You want to reduce the risk of infection and intrusion.

    Protect Your Kids

    Keep the children's computer in the room that is most often occupied by family members with the monitor facing everyone. This helps to discourage "secret" conversations and friendships that child predators so desperately seek. This also helps adults to see where children are online, what they are doing and with whom they are communicating.

    Spend time as a family talking about experiences in your daily and online lives - where you went, with whom, what you did. Protect your children online as you do everyday.

    Don't Give Out Personal Information

    Don't post your personal information at websites, guestbooks, forums, social networking communities, family homepages with or without biographical information, newsgroups, chatroom profiles, text messaging profiles, or in email. Your personal information includes your legal name, last name, address, phone, marital status, occupation, financial/banking/credit/insurance card information, social security numbers, passwords, logon information and other usernames.

    When entering financial, banking, or credit card information online while banking or shopping, be sure the website is where you want to be and the website is secure. Look for https in the webpage address or an icon of an unbroken key or lock that is closed, glowing or golden usually at the bottom of the browser window. You can double-click the lock to display the website's certificate. Be sure this certificate matches the website you believe you are visiting. If it does not, don't enter your information. Know that some reputable websites - including stores and banks - use third-party vendor websites for financial transactions online.

    Check Your Energy Consumption

    To be environmentally friendly as we are everyday through recycling and reducing everyday consumption of energy resources, each business and individual can contribute using resources available online. As a business, before purchasing new computers and monitors, check the EPEAT registry at http://www.epeat.net for energy consumption levels and other environmental indicators. This is similar to checking the energy usage for home appliances before buying. The EPEAT uses the IEEE 1680 standard, the first US standard of environmental guidelines, for desktops, laptops and monitors.

    As individuals before buying, check energy usage with the Energy Star 4.0 ratings at the Environmental Protection Agency http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/conserve/plugin. When you are recycling or discarding your old computers, visit the E-cycling Central website http://www.eiae.org by the Electronic Industries Alliance. Remember also to do one of two things: either use a product such as cyberCide http://www.cyberscrub.com so your personal information is not found somewhere on the hard drive in case your computer isn't immediately destroyed or remove the hard drive and physically hammer it so the hard drive is irreversibly unusable.

    Be Aware of Fraud

    Seniors as a group are targeted for fraud more than any other group. Predators target minors as a group more than any other group. Both seniors and minors typically have a trusting nature that can be manipulated by criminals.

    Be aware of offers or information you receive online in chatrooms, forums, newsgroups, websites or email that could result in someone you have not met in person to visit your home or office. Be aware of someone online asking you to attend a meeting or gathering. Also be aware of supposedly a company or someone requiring your immediate online response with details of your financial, banking, credit or social security information. These are most likely scams.

    Prevent Computer Infections

    Be aware of infections circulating in your community (such as the flu), in your email, phone, text messaging programs, chatrooms and on the internet. Use preventative measures to avoid infection by using anti-virus and anti-spyware software. This will help maintain your privacy and safety.

    Some infectors only need you to view the email in the preview pane to begin infection. Other times you do not need to click on a link in the email or an attachment. Sometimes there is no message in the text section of the email. Direct your email program not to automatically open email attachments or display messages and pictures. This reduces the possibility of spammers verifying your email address and infectors automatically installing themselves. Use anti-virus software with all incoming and outgoing email.

    Infectors are increasingly targeting personal information. Spammers and infector authors are teaming up for a very profitable and illegal enterprise. With a phishing scam, the victim voluntarily and knowingly gives the money or property to the criminal but would not have done so if the criminal did not make a false representation or misrepresentation.

    Install and use more than one anti-virus software and anti-spyware software regularly. You shouldn't use these programs at the same time as it can negatively affect your computer's performance. Be sure to install updates regularly. Let the programs complement each other. Chances are if the infector or malware signature is not too prevalent or the company concentrates on one particular aspect, one company may already have included the infector signature whereas another company may not have done so yet.