Surfing safely

How to protect yourself online.

keyboard computer Internet cyber warfare 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
keyboard computer Internet cyber warfare 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
The Internet is pretty much indispensable to our lives today. We need it to communicate, keep in touch with friends and family and submit assignments and work documents. Some of us even work from home, using the Internet instead of actually going into an office. Since the Internet is here to stay, understanding how to protect your privacy and identity online is important.
Facebook is one-stop-shopping for your friends and family to find out what is going on in your life and see the latest pictures of your family. Unfortunately, Facebook is more like a bulletin board than a family photo album. Unless your privacy settings are properly set, you might be in for a shock as to who can access your profile and everything you have written in it. This makes your Facebook a prime target for people who want to hurt you by using information you have posted, For example: whether you really were sick that day you called in to watch the Superbowl, how you really feel about your boss or friend, your stance on gay marriage or the answers to the secret questions that protect your email. Since you might want to share all those details with your friends and family but not with your boss, rivals or identity thieves, you should do the minimum to make sure you are only sharing with the people you intend to. You can read all about how to customize your Facebook privacy settings at You should also avoid sharing information that will inevitably show up on recovery questions, such as your exact date of birth.
Recovery Questions [For email, e-banking and other Internet services]
Make sure the answers to your recovery questions aren’t something that you have written on your Facebook profile or any other place that is obvious and easy for a malicious person to get hold of.
There is no shame in having a little black notebook near your computer with the answers to questions that you wouldn’t be able to remember otherwise, or hints to help you remember passwords that are too complex to sit in your mind without a clue or two. Having better passwords and more secure questions helps prevent people from guessing their way into your digital life without needing to physically break into your house to get at your notebook.
(It goes without saying that you shouldn’t have a big sticker on the notebook that says “PASSWORDS HERE” either.)
Password sharing
Many of us are guilty of having said a variation of the following sentence when we needed something done: “Don’t worry about it. Just log into my account; The password I use for everything is ‘droolingbabies2.’” At the moment in time you gave your best friend your password, you might not mind that he or she has access to your account, but do you know that he will take care of your password as well as you do? Might he accidentally leave you logged in or write your password down and leave it somewhere? What if he can’t withstand the curiosity of knowing the latest drama and snoops in on what you think are private emails? Or what if you have a messy breakup and are no longer friends at some point? Might he or she use that information to hurt you? Your password is personal. Don’t share it. Even better, take my advice from my article on securing Gmail ( and use dual authentication on any account you can. In that case, even if they someone knows your password, they still can’t get in without talking to you.
Privacy on the job
Most people have Internet access at work. What most people don’t know is that employers – especially in large or international companies – frequently spy on their employees. This isn’t usually out of maliciousness, but is frequently mandated for legal reasons or to protect them from possible lawsuits. Regardless of the reasoning, your personal correspondence and surfing habits may be saved on a computer somewhere pending the need to review them for legal reasons or misconduct on your part.
Even worse, if your company is involved in a lawsuit, it is possible your personal emails sent from the company computer could end up a part of the court record and on display to the whole world. As a result, you should assume that anything you do on a work computer or while connected to the company network is public. If you want to keep your private life out of the newspaper or your company politics, don’t bring your personal life into the office. More information here: Avoid sending personal information by email Most of us mess up on this one, frequently because it is significantly more convenient to send forms containing credit card numbers and national ID numbers by email than to submit them via phone, fax or in person. If you absolutely have to send personal information by email, do your best to remove it from your “sent items” folder (unless you really need it there). That way if your email is ever compromised, you won’t have given the culprit your credit card and ID numbers as well. You can also use a secure email service such as Hushmail, which takes additional steps to make sure no one but you can access your email.
Use an antivirus program
Viruses and other malware are not just an annoyance to have on your computer; They can be actively conspiring to ruin your life. Some malware holds your files hostage unless you pay to release them, some steals credit card information that you type into the computer and some give your email password to scammers who send your friends and relatives requests for money in your name.
One of the best ways to keep malware out of your computer is to have a working and updated antivirus program. If you have been avoiding getting an antivirus because of the price, you’ll be happy to know that you no longer have to shell out the big bucks to have your computer protected. Antivirus programs such as Avira and Security Essentials are not only free; they frequently even outscore the more expensive Norton and McAfee antivirus suites. If you aren’t sure if your computer can handle an antivirus or if you don’t know if you already have one installed, ask your friendly neighborhood PC technician.
Stay Safe!