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Stay secure by staying informed

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Although the Web can feel like the Wild West at times, with gunslingers everywhere looking to separate users from their privacy, logins and cash, there are some concrete steps people can take to avoid the multitude of online threats and minimise the risks they face.
“Computers can make life easier, but they also can put your private information at risk. The single greatest danger you face on the Internet is yourself. More specifically, there is nothing that can compensate for your poor Internet safety habits,” explains Lutz Blaeser.
“Your online safety is 10% dependent on someone else and 90% dependent on you, and the majority of risk factors can be controlled through a few simple steps.”
The first step is education. Anyone can throw around terms such as “spyware” and “viruses”, but what exactly are they? It helps to know before trying to figure out how best to avoid such problems.
“The first level of protection is therefore a good security software suite. A product like Avira Internet Security offers protection against viruses, spyware and other malware, while also ensuring that hackers can’t access your computer. Personal firewalls and security software packages (with antivirus, anti-spam, and spyware detection features) are a must-have for those who access the Internet,” says Blaeser.
“If you don’t use security software, you expose your computer to damage from malicious software, you run the risk of spreading viruses to other computers, and you open the door to online criminals.”
He adds that it is equally important to update the software regularly. Because cyber-criminals continually come up with new viruses and spyware, the software needs to be updated – out of date antivirus and anti-malware suites are effectively useless. Similarly, it is important to install the latest version of a Web browser and keep it up to date.
“You may be shedding personal details, including e-mail addresses and other contact information, without even knowing it unless you properly configure your Web browser,” Blaeser says.
“Using the latest version of your Web browser and keeping your browser up to date are two of the best ways to prevent trouble online. In most cases, the latest version of a Web browser contains security fixes and new features that can help protect your computer and your privacy while you’re online.”
However, he points out that common sense and good judgement play a larger role in keeping users secure than any piece of software can.
“Consciously think about your online actions and what you do with your personal information. Avoid unsecured wireless connections, lock your computer with a password when not in use, stop saving your credit card information on every site you visit, and last but not least, do not post information on Facebook you would not be comfortable sharing with the rest of the world.”
The best passwords are ones that are difficult to guess, he says, suggesting using a password that consists of a combination of numbers, letters (both upper case and lower case), punctuation, and special characters.
“The best security in the world is useless if a malicious person has a legitimate user name and password. They can do everything you can do.”
In addition, users should pay attention to how much information they give out online to ensure that there are no security holes cyber-criminals can use.
“Don’t share your password with others and never reply to phishing e-mails with your password or other sensitive information. Legitimate entities will not ask you to provide or verify sensitive information through a non-secure means, such as e-mail.
“If you have reason to believe that your financial institution actually does need personal information from you, pick up the phone and call the company yourself – using the number in your rolodex, not the one the e-mail provides,” Blaeser points out.
“Also pay attention to how much critical information you willingly give away. This is the Internet – information posted online can be seen by almost anyone, and secure Web sites can be hacked. Even restricted pages such as your Facebook profile are not entirely safe – someone with access (such as your ‘friends’) could copy and paste the information to a Web page that isn’t truly private.
“The bottom line here is that you need to be extra careful with yourself on the Internet. Be sceptical, be informed, and be careful.”