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What are the most important features/elements needed to protect yourself from online threats?

Posted on May 14, 2011
Unfortunately the pervasive threat of malware looms large over all computer users. Malware is a blanket term used to describe all sorts of potential online threats. It is short for malicious software and refers to threats including viruses, spyware, adware, worms and Trojan horses. With so many security threats online it is absolutely vital that people protect themselves.
 
There are a number of ways you can take precautions to protect yourself from online threats. Here are five basic tips:
 
  1. Install antivirus software and keep it up to date.
  2. Install a firewall and configure it correctly.
  3. Scan your system as often as possible (a full system scan at least once a week.)
  4. Don’t open emails that look suspicious.
  5. Don’t download files from websites you don’t trust.
 
Protecting yourself doesn’t need to be an expensive undertaking. However, make sure your antivirus and firewall software is from a reputable vendor. Just remember to keep the software up to date. This is important because criminals are constantly developing new types of malware and in order to identify them your software needs to receive regular definition updates.
 
When you are online try to be thoughtful about where you click and what files you download. This extends to email as well because you can unwittingly unleash malware onto your system simply by opening an email. Don’t click on links you don’t trust and don’t download files from websites you don’t trust. If you do download files always make sure to scan them before opening.
 
Even taking these precautions your machine may still become infected so it is vital you perform frequent system scans. You should do a full system scan with your antivirus software at least once a week and you may want to scan local folders more often than that. You could also consider using some anti-spyware or anti-adware software. It is a good idea to make them part of your weekly routine, as well.
 
There are also other threats online which you should be aware of. One of the biggest threats at the moment has been dubbed phishing. It involves criminals trying to trick people into turning over their personal details and passwords. These phishing scams can be quite elaborate and involve fake websites and convincing emails. Typically, they will be presented as an email from your bank which asks you to click on a link and enter your details. The email and the website it links to will be false but may look very similar to the real thing.
 
There are several indications that an email is a phishing attempt. Your bank will never send you a link in an email and ask you to follow it and enter your details. Other indications that an email is false include:
 
  1. The sender doesn’t address you by name.
  2. The email address of the sender is wrong or absent.
  3. The email contains spelling mistakes.
  4. The email threatens that your account will be closed if you don’t respond immediately.
  5. The email asks you to send personal information or documents.
  6. The email is badly formatted.
 
If you are suspicious of any email you receive then check with the organization before responding (do not use any of the contact details in the email you received though!). Many banks and services now have dedicated phishing email addresses which can be used to verify phishing attempts by forwarding on suspicious emails.
 
Shopping and banking online are very convenient but they can also be major risk areas as criminals try to steal your personal details and gain access to your cash. Some banks have better online security than others but there are a few things you can do to reduce your risks:
 
  1. Use strong passwords with several characters and try to mix letters, numbers and symbols.
  2. Never divulge your password to anyone and do not store it on your computer.
  3. If you discover any malware on your computer make sure you remove it and then change your passwords.
  4. When you are connecting to the bank or entering credit card details for online shopping purposes, make sure the web page is secure – the address should start with https:// and there should be a padlock symbol in the bottom right corner of your browser frame.
 
As you can see there are a lot of things to consider if you want to fully protect yourself from online threats. Provided you have antivirus software and a firewall installed that is up to date, then the rest is mostly about common sense. Do not open or respond to emails or websites that you don’t know or trust. Guard your details and information as you would your possessions in everyday life. Maintain a healthy level of suspicion and you’ll find protecting yourself from online threats is not too taxing.


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