Cyber Security Awareness Month – Are You Surfing Safely?

October 10th, 2011

How much time do you spend online? If you’re like most people, then part of every day is spent shopping, networking and surfing the Web.

It’s just so convenient. You can do most anything you want online these days. But there are some dangers every surfer should be aware of. October is Cyber Security Month, so it’s a great time to think about online safety. Check out these cyber safety tips, and then share your thoughts with us.

Protect Your Identity Online

Identity theft is one of the most common and fastest-growing forms of cyber crime. Criminals are always developing clever new schemes to steal your money, private information and your identity. If you get victimized by identity theft, fixing the problem and restoring your good name will be a long, costly process. The best defense is to protect your personal information so predators never have a chance to exploit you.

We’ve all bought something online because it was convenient and inexpensive. But how much do we know about some of the websites we use? Before you make a purchase at an unfamiliar site, learn all you can about the retailer. Look for feedback from previous customers to see if people had a positive or negative shopping experience. Choose websites that offer secure transactions and encrypt all the data you provide during the checkout process. It’s also a good idea to choose sites that are VeriSign Trusted or display some other proof that they are safe to use.

Avoid Malware

Online shopping is great, but it’s important to check out unfamiliar sites before you purchase anything. Visit the wrong site and you could end up downloading malware designed to steal your personal information or harm your computer. Most viruses can be destroyed and removed, but it’s much better to avoid malware in the first place.

Start by using powerful anti-virus software. Make sure you have up-to-date protection – but no matter how good the software is, you still have to protect yourself. Be careful about downloading anything. Do a little research first to make sure your potential download is safe. And be wary of popup windows. Some windows start a download no matter where you click – even on the telltale X. You can close a popup quickly and safely by hitting Control-Alt-Delete, selecting Task Manager and then ending a task.

Going Phishing

Phishing is a malicious attempt to trick you into providing personal information online. The most common method is an email that appears to come from a reputable source, such as your bank or a utility company. These emails usually tell you to click a link and login to fix some serious problem. Trouble is, the email is a phony. Scam artists send millions of these messages in the hopes of hooking unsuspecting consumers. Clicking the link will take you to a site the criminals created. It looks exactly like the real thing, but isn’t. If you login, the bad guys get your password. Then they can login as you at the real site.

Tabnabbing is another form of phising. It’s a method of tricking you into logging in at a website that is an exact replica of another site you probably use. This begins when you inadvertently download a third party script, aka malware. Once the script in on your computer, it can take over an inactive browser window and literally update the URL. When you return to that window, you’ll see a replica site the criminals created. They’re hoping you’ll login at their fake site, because if you do, they can see your real user name and password.

The best way to avoid phishing scams is to always enter the entire URL for every site you visit. Type in the complete URL before you login to any site. And never click on a link inside an unsolicited email and then provide personal information. Always enter the URL yourself to make sure you’re seeing the real thing.

The Password Is

Could a friend who knows you well guess your password? How about someone who learns about you online? The first rule of creating new passwords is to never use a name, birth date or anything else that someone could easily figure out. It’s best to create passwords with several letters, numbers and even a symbol or two.

Most passwords are 4 – 5 characters long, but it’s safer to use at least 8. Identity theft experts recommend updating your password regularly, and using different passwords if you have multiple accounts. If someone does steal your password, at least they won’t have access to all of your accounts.

Oh, and one other thing. It can be difficult to remember new passwords, especially if you have several. Writing them down might make it easier for you, but don’t keep your notes too close to the computer. That’s the first place someone will look if they have direct access.

Social Networking

Millions of people use social networks every day. They are a fun way to stay connected with family and friends all over the planet. But be careful what you post. You never know who might be watching.

Most networks have privacy controls that limit who can and cannot see what you post online. You can change your settings so that only friends may view some or all of your updates. Check out the privacy settings for any network you use, and make sure your personal posts really are private.

Do you know everyone on your friends list? It’s not unusual to receive friend requests from people we haven’t met, but be careful about whom you add. Savvy criminals set up fake accounts just so they can look for private information about strangers. Even the best security settings won’t help you if you invite the wrong people in.

Some networking sites show people where you are at any given time. Be careful with this feature. It can be used against you. Criminals are using this service as an opportunity to find out when someone isn’t home. It makes it so much easier for them to plan a break-in.

Do you have a story about cyber crime or staying secure online? Then leave us a comment to share your thoughts and thank you for reading the PeopleFinders people search blog.

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