Guest Post by Kate Schneiders
Most homes in America have personal computers connected to cyberspace. The Internet was a great invention … it allows us to communicate with people and businesses across the glove, access educational information, connect with friends and contacts via social media, and even get information on medical issues. Although the Internet can be a great thing, it can also be a very dangerous place to hang out. It’s easy to fall victim to cyber-predators … which is why I’m sharing these 5 tips to help keep you and your kiddos safe in cyberspace.
1. Stay Current
Hackers use malicious software, called malware, to infect your computer and gain access to personal information. So, to help keep your system protected from their attacks, make sure that your antivirus software is up-to-date. With more than 100 new computer viruses being released into the wild every day, current antivirus software is crucial to your Internet safety. Also critical to your safety, is current anti-spam software and updated firewall settings.
2. Beware of Charity Scams
Scam artists love major disasters. With the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, thousands of people are heading to the Internet to see what they can do to help the victims. And, you can bet cybercriminals and other hackers are eager to take advantage of people’s charity for their own gain. So, if you are considering donating to relief efforts, make sure to research the charity before you give them your personal information. Make sure that you are donating to legitimate charities (this charity research tool by the BBB is a great resource.)
Note: Avoid e-mail solicitations for charity money because most of them are scams. If you are contacted by a fraudulent ‘charity’, make sure you report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, BBB or National Center for Disaster Relief.
3. Social Network Safety
Facebook and Twitter are the place to be in cyberspace. I like to think of them as the cyberspace version of the smokin’ hot student body president football star (or for you men out there, the drop-dead gorgeous cheerleading homecoming queen) that you gushed over your sophomore year in high school.
Because so many people are using social networking sites, it’s more important now than ever before to make sure that you are aware of who can access your profile and search for you. Customize the ‘Settings’ or ‘Options’ to block people from searching from you and control who can see what you post. Be smart and don’t post things that you would only tell a close friend. Remember, this is the Internet we are talking about … nothing is really private. Also, make sure that if you use your mobile phone for social networking that no one can gain access to it from your profile. (If you use Facebook and haven’t checked it out lately, you may want to remove your mobile number from the new ‘phonebook’ app they’ve created.
4. Think Before You Click
Before you start opening attachments or clicking on e-mail links, make sure you take a minute to think about what you are doing. Be wary of clicking links or buttons in popup windows. Check out the website you are visiting and make sure that it’s secure. Sites with addresses that begin with https (‘s’ for secure) with a padlock are safe. However, even if it’s safe, don’t just start handing out your personal information. It’s best to share as little personal information online as possible. Before you share your personal information, make sure the recipient (site or individual) is trustworthy. And, if in doubt, it’s best to error on the side of being overly cautious.
5. Secure Passwords
Make sure that you are using strong passwords that are secure. Passwords are like toothbrushes – you shouldn't share them with others and you should get a new one regularly. Don't know how to create a secure password? Microsoft has a page with great tips to help you create strong passwords that you can remember. The best passwords use both upper and lower case letters, numbers and some symbols. Don't use the same password for every log in. Make sure important accounts (like banking or credit cards) have their own secure password. Also, you may want to consider password protecting your wireless Internet connection at home so that people can't hack your network and gain access to your computer.
So, there you have it. Five tips to help you stay safe online. You don't have to be a security expert to keep your computer safe, just try to become web savvy. Take time to research Internet trends, talk with other parents and computer users or read articles about security.
If you want more information about how you can keep your children and computer safe in cyberspace, check out this Parent’s Guide to Internet Safety created by the FBI. It’s got a lot of really great information.
Kate Schneiders is a real technogeek and a self-proclaimed ‘word nerd.’ She has been contributing to blogs and the Internet in general for the past 5 years. In her spare time you can find her crafting, cooking and teaching her technotard husband about antivirus software.