Staying Safe on the Web

Internet safety, as it relates to shopping, passwords and overall privacy, has been a rising concern amongst Internet users. In the past several years, major companies such as Microsoft, Apple, eBay and Amazon have been making substantial efforts to better protect their users from viruses by creating more advanced “spy” detection programs and encryption methods. In particular, identity theft has been on the rise, which has made https encryption and filtering software necessary for many users.

Internet Safety Tools

Although there is no one program that can guarantee your protection from identity theft and viruses, there are a number of proven tools and strategies that can better protect your privacy and computer. When using online merchandisers, try to use https sites that encrypt all Internet traffic between the browser and server; currently both eBay and Paypal offer users this protection. This extra layer of encryption protects users’ passwords, addresses, bank account and credit card numbers.

For protection against viruses and spamming, Internet users can use a variety of filtering software programs. In the U.S., Norton makes one of the most popular programs, which mainly focuses on protecting users from viruses, spyware and spamming. Most software programs have several layers of protection, from downloading “insight” tools that protect users from virus-infected downloads to a browser tool that checks unsafe websites and blocks possible online threats uploaded by browsers. Program services such as OpenDNS assist customers with content filtering, which protects them from “phishing.” Phishing, a common activity that leads to identity theft, is the “baiting” of users to give out private information, such as passwords, usernames, bank account numbers and credit card details. When phishing, hackers frequently send out mass emails using fictionalized identities in order to secure users’ private information. This frequently occurs through emails or instant messaging.

In addition, there are password safety precautions that users can and should take. As most Internet security experts highly recommend that users do not use only 1 password for all of their online accounts, programs like Password Safe generate several encrypted passwords for their customers. Major universities, such as NYU, now require students to change their account passwords every year in order to better protect their online accounts.

New Users

For new users, it is vital to take appropriate measures and precautions—most of which are simple and logical—before emailing or purchasing items over the Internet. First, do not give out any of your personal information online; this includes usernames, passwords or financial information such as your bank account or credit card number. No reliable source will ask you for this private information over an email or instant message, unless you are starting an account online or purchasing an item. Secondly, avoid phishing tricks; even if emails seem to come from reliable sources, always double-check by calling a number from their website. Purchase software programs that help you filter spam and suspicious websites with pop-ups. Lastly, when purchasing items online, try to use websites that utilize https encryption.

If you ignore these precautionary steps, this could lead to severe consequences. Identity theft often starts on the Internet, with careless users giving away critical information on unprotected websites. Falling for online scams and downloading from unencrypted websites leads not only to identity theft, but can lead users to download harmful viruses. These viruses destroy your hard-drive and if they go untreated for even a few days, computers can sustain permanent damage. Protecting your password and private information, avoiding unprotected websites and being cautious with what you download, then, should help protect you from online frauds and viruses.

If you want to learn more about Internet safety measures, here is a list of reliable resources you can use:

  •—This is a U.S. government website that gives adults and children information on Internet safety, from advice on avoiding scams to securing your computer from identity theft.
  •—StaySafeOnline is a website powered by the National Cyber Security Alliance, which seeks to educate digital users on using the Internet safely and securely at home, school and work.
  • Internet Safety Project—This is an online safety project started by an open forum of Internet users. It includes “how-to” articles, a list of Internet safety organizations and products and an “Internet Safety Project” video library.