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Seven Steps To Safe Surfing

Safely Surfing the Internet

What dangers do Internet surfers face?

The Internet places global resources at our fingertips. High speed cable and DSL make unlimited access (time) possible. Not all Internet users share our morals and character. Viruses, worms, Trojan horses, phishing scams, spyware, adware, and hackers looking to exploit weaknesses make surfing the Internet a hazardous activity.

This article: Net Threat Rising appeared in the Wall Street Journal, September 2005, and said: "Use the Internet at home and you have a 1-in-3 chance of suffering computer damage, financial loss, or both because of a computer virus or spyware that sneaks onto your computer", at a cost of $9 billion in repairs. "That is one of the unsettling conclusions from our 2005 Consumer Reports State of the Net survey of online consumers."

Can Internet surfers protect themselves?

Yes you can!

These seven steps will go a long way to making your surfing safe:

STEP 1: Computer Operating System
STEP 2: Firewall
STEP 3: Close Ports and Turn Off Functions
STEP 4: Use Anti-virus Software
STEP 5: Remove Spyware and Adware
STEP 6: Surf as a User, Not an Administrator
STEP 7: Modify Surfing Habits

Step One: Computer Operating System

How safe is Microsoft Windows?

It is because Microsoft Windows is so vulnerable that these seven steps are necessary. Until another OS (operating system) becomes available, we Windows users must be proactive if we are to protect ourselves.

Step one is to use Microsoft Update (newer than Windows Update) frequently to keep up with new holes in Windows, Internet Explorer, and Office software. Microsoft will automatically notify you when updates are available. You can choose to install updates automatically, although I prefer to oversee each update. With high-speed access, these updates can be scheduled for overnight when the computer is not in use. You must be logged in to an administrator account to have the necessary computer permissions to perform updates.

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Step Two: Firewall

What does a firewall do?

Your home has a front door, a back door, and probably another door or two. To be safe, you must keep the doors locked. A computer has thousands of doors when connected to the Internet. Are they closed and locked? How do you know?

A firewall watches the doors (called ports) and controls what comes and goes. You, the user, tell the firewall what is OK and what is not. The firewall tells you what ports are being used to communicate with the Internet and blocks outsiders from access to your computer.

Windows XP is the first Windows OS to include a firewall. Using it is better than nothing. Some anti-virus software packages also include a firewall or you can select your own choice for a firewall. Just don't try to run more than one firewall at a time. If you choose to not use the Windows XP firewall (my recommendation), you can and must turn it off.

You can add another layer of security with a hardware firewall (my recommendation) in addition to a software firewall. One of the advantages of cable or DSL internet access is you can connect and use more than one computer at a time. The hardware used to network your home computers and connect them to the Internet, called a router, can also serve as a firewall. In effect, your home network is invisible to outsiders when it hides behind the router because only the router is exposed to the Internet community. A less than $50 investmen in a router is well worth the money.

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Step Three: Close Ports and Turn Off Functions

Do what?

Doing this is probably beyond most average users. However, Steve Gibson has made this type of security measure easy. Using Steve's site, you can see what "ports" are vulnerable. He suggests other security steps as well.

At this site: grc.com, the first utilities you will find are the Three Musketeers: DCOMbobulator, Shoot The Messenger, and UnPlug n' Pray. These utilities are easy to use and you can learn what they do and why from the site. The next two utilities are ShieldsUp and Leak Test. You use the web site to learn why and how to close ports. The Classic DoS Attack Report explains what hackers are doing and why. It is an eye opener.

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Step Four: Use Anti-virus Software

Why wait until after you have a virus?

There are several anti-virus software programs, some free for personal use, some pay by subscription. The better ones detect and alert you of danger before infection, and quarantine the viruses to protect you. The Internet is full of stories about how hard it is to remove malware after it has infected a computer.

Anti-virus software companies post new updates frequently to keep up with newly discovered threats. Like Microsoft Update, they will automatically notify you when updates are available. With cable or DSL, these updates can be performed overnight while the computer is not in use.

Here are two anti-virus programs I have used successfully:

AVG Antivirus (Free for Personal Use and Retail Version)

AVAST! by ALWIL. (Free for Home Use and Retail Version)

Clicking on these links could generate revenue for Infinite Computer Works LLC but would not increase your cost should you decide to buy one of these products. Infinite Computer Works LLC does not promote or advertise products unless we have used them and are satisfied with the product and customer service.

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Step Five: Remove Spyware and Adware

How bad can it be?

Adware is bad enough. It uses up computer resources slowing everything down, and creates a nuisance when advertisements continually pop up on the computer screen.

Hijackers take control of Internet Explorer, changes the "home page" to something possibly objectionable, and takes the user to undesirable web sites.

Spyware is very hazardous. Some spyware programs just keep record of the web sites as you visit them, then use that information to send you advertisements based on your web site choices. The most dangerous spyware collects your keyboard keystrokes to steal your passwords, personal, and financial information.

These two programs are free to use and do not interfere with any other programs. They do not run in the background, so you would need to run them frequently.

Spybot Search & Destroy (Free to use, accepts donations)

Lavasoft Ad-Aware (Free Personal Use, Retail Version)

Clicking on these links could generate revenue for Infinite Computer Works LLC but would not increase your cost should you decide to buy one of these products. Infinite Computer Works LLC does not promote or advertise products unless we have used them and are satisfied with the product and customer service.

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Lavasoft Adaware

Step Six: Surf as a User, Not an Administrator

What is the difference?

This only applies to Windows XP and 2000. It makes them safer to use than Windows 98. Windows 98 versions before the Second Edition are not recommended as safe choices partly because every user has administrator privileges.

The administrator account can make changes to Windows like installing new software and deleting system files. If you are logged in as an administrator and your computer is infected, the malware has complete access to critical system files.

If however, you create a separate user account with limited privileges for use while surfing, malware will not be allowed to do damage to your computer. It is just safer.

Even though Microsoft recommends using the user account, it creates another problem. A user account cannot install the Microsoft Updates, and may not even be notified that critical updates are available. You would have to log out of the user account and log in to the administrator account to perform the updates. In addition, some programs require administrator privileges to run.

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Step Seven: Modify Surfing Habits

How is surfing dangerous?

Just as Microsoft Windows exposes the Internet user to the greatest danger, Internet Explorer is the most risky browser to use. Just as there are gutters and sewers in society, there are gutters and sewers in the global Internet community. You surf there at your own peril. Just the action of moving your mouse over a spot on one of these unsavory web sites can trigger a malicious software attack on your computer!

Firefox (Mozilla.org) is free to use and much safer than IE. Alternative browsers have less software vulnerabilities and do not attract viruses like the much more widely used IE. That and staying away from dangerous web sites will help keep your web surfing safe.

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