With thousands of new viruses created every day, it is important that users keep themselves, their family and their laptop protected from any potential online threats.

Most people are aware of these threats. However, a few basics steps can help protect users from these, writes Reon Coetzee, regional sales manager, Toshiba Southern Africa.
Below is a simple "how to" guide to help users do just that:
How to prevent phishing
Phishing is a particularly devious Internet crime. Criminals set up a fake website of a real bank, online shop, or credit card company. They then try to fool people through spam or targeted e-mails, hoping to get lucky and find real customers of the hijacked bank, e-retailer, or credit card company.
The emails can be extremely convincing, such as a message from an online shop saying that a credit card has been declined, or from the user's bank saying that they have detected unauthorised activity on the account.
The messages frequently feature logos, styles and company mottos or campaign messages that seem legitimate.
The message invites users to click on a link, which takes them to the fake website. There, they will be asked to enter private information that the criminals then use to steal their money or identity.
Toshiba advises users to:
* Keep the operating system patched and download the latest version of the browser, to ensure that it is fully updated and utilises the latest technologies.
* Remember that banks and credit card institutions will never e-mail their customers to ask for a PIN.
* Check the sender's email address, check the URL of any website and look for "https".
* Use an Internet service provider (ISP) that implements strong anti-spam and anti-phishing technologies and policies.
* Protect the computer with strong security software and keep it up-to-date.
How to shop safely
From buying music, books and software to purchasing electronics and furniture, millions of people enjoy shopping online.
Security features on reputable online shops help ensure transactions are safe and secure. There are, however, some safety tips user should follow to avoid becoming a victim of cyber-crime.
* Use a payment method that provides protection, and check credit card statements every month.
* Reputable online shops will offer special technology for ensuring that users' personal information remains safe throughout the transaction.
* Purchase comprehensive computer security software that can identify and block possible threats when shopping online.
* It's never a good idea to send cash in the mail.
How to chat safely
Instant messaging (IM) is the simplest way to communicate online. However, sophisticated attacks are launched through IM as frequently as they are through email. What's more, children love visiting chat rooms to connect with other kids around the world.
They can be frequented by bullies, as well as fraudsters who pressure kids into innocently revealing private information. It’s important to:
* Choose a screen name carefully, only share it with trusted people and ask friends not to share the screen name with others.
* Never provide private information like account numbers or passwords in an IM conversation or chat.
* Users should spend time talking to their children about the dangers involved in online chat.
* Install up-to-date security software on the household laptop or PC.
* Monitor and limit the children's use of instant messaging, chat and social networks.
How to protect identity
Identity theft is a serious crime that affects millions of people each year. It occurs when someone use personally identifying information – like a user's name, passport number or credit card details – to commit fraud or other crimes.
Unfortunately, the Internet can be used as a channel for stealing personal data. Armed with a user's personal information, con artists can open new credit card accounts, phone or electricity accounts in the user's name, create counterfeit cheques and even get a job or rent a house using stolen IDs.
Users may not become aware of the crime until damage has already been done, when debt collection agencies contact them about liabilities they never incurred. Fight identity theft by following these tips:
* Invest in trusted, multi-faceted security software.
* Don't get tricked into revealing private information by a phishing scam.
* Ensure the Wi-Fi network is protected by a secure password.
* Always check the statements from bank and credit card companies.
* Inform kids about the need to keep personal information secure.
How to protect children
While the Internet offers children many wonderful benefits for learning and communicating, it also poses dangers.
Meeting an offender online ranks among the worst threats children face today – but there are other serious concerns, such as the accessibility to fascist or pornographic content, and even sites promoting illicit drugs.
Loss of privacy is another big risk, especially on social networking sites. Help kids guard their own personal information and that of their family and friends by considering these five guidelines:
* Monitor children's use of the Internet.
* Fortify the computer with strong security software and make sure to keep it up-to-date.
* Educate kids about the need to protect privacy online.
* It's imperative that users' kids let them know if they arrange in-person meetings with people they meet online.
* Use browsers for kids and kid-oriented search engines.
How to reduce spam
Spam is mass-distributed and unsolicited email advertising. It can contain offensive content, such as pornography, be used to deliver fraudulent emails and include links to deceptive phishing sites that lure users into revealing private information.
Spammers get email addresses from chat rooms and websites, viruses that reveal the contents of a victim's address book, or simply by combining characters until they find a valid email address.
Spammers can even infect computers with malicious software, turning them into spam-sending robots. Spam can be distressing for the recipient, and costly for legitimate businesses.
It's estimated that by 2010, spam will account for 79% of global email traffic (Radicati Group, 2006). To protect users from the dangers of spam, follow these useful tips:
* Install comprehensive PC security software and keep it up-to-date.
* Email addresses and instant message IDs are valuable: protect them.
* Always take care when opening attachments on a laptop or PC.
* Educate kids not to fill out online surveys or register for contests or fan clubs.
* Use an Internet service provider (ISP) that implements strong security and works to prevent spam.
How to protect the PC  
Online, con artists can fool users into revealing private data, phish for their financial information, or install malicious software on laptops or PCs.
While the wide range of threats may seem overwhelming, users can protect themselves and their device by following a few simple rules to help ensure that using the Internet is a rewarding and fun experience for everyone:
* Never provide name, address or credit card details on a website that is not authenticated.
* Never install software or open files from a source that is not reputable.
* Ensure that the laptop or PC is protected by strong, up-to-date security software.
* Create smart and strong passwords.
* Pay attention to children's online activities.
Laptops are as vulnerable as desktops to the ever increasing ferocity and frequency of computer viruses. It’s important for users to look after their property, and it is simple common sense to ensure the laptop, and the information stored, on it is protected.
There are a wide range of ways that users can stay safe on the Internet and enjoy peace of mind, with the right tools and some helpful tips.