Online Security – Keeping Safe Online!

While it has all of our favorite images, videos, news, and games, the internet is still a dangerous place. Even the most savvy of users can’t avoid every instance of malicious intent. Here are a few tips to keep you and your computer safe and secure as you browse the web.

Practice safe browsing habits

You and your brain are your first defense against online threats, traps, and sites that would take advantage of you. Use your noggin and think before you click. Even seemingly innocuous links can be falsified to be made to look like they come from your bank or another trusted source. An example from Kaspersky, a leading web security company:

If you receive a link via email, instant or text message, don’t click on it unless you asked for it to be sent to you. A good example to illustrate this case: if your bank sent you an important notification and offers a ‘click to read’ option, don’t click on it. Just launch the Web browser and enter your online bank manually.

The second type of dangerous links is alarmist, provocative or tempting banners. There is an iron-clad rule: website images and banners like ‘your PC is under threat’, ‘update the player’, ‘you have won a prize’, ‘make your PC work faster’ and the like are nearly 100% fraudulent.

And never, EVER, try to “download more RAM.”

Even behavior that isn’t necessarily malicious or criminal can be dealt with via built-in methods:

Bullies, provocateurs, forum ‘trolls’ are none the better. Teenagers and children are quite vulnerable to this kind of threat, as they are mostly unable to efficiently deflect verbal attacks or ignore the matter. But you can go without plunging into heated discussions or making nasty arguments about someone’s mother. Almost any forum, social network or chat has a ‘block user’ button, as well as ‘report spam’ or ‘report abuse’. Use them without hesitation: firstly, report an abusive commentary, secondly, report the attacker to disarm them.

The entirety of Kaspersky’s article is on-point, so go check it out in the Further Reading section below.

Install antivirus software and update it

The internet is a dangerous place, and even the most savvy of users can’t avoid every instance of malicious intent. From the How-To Geek:

Many people think that you can only get malware by downloading suspicious files, running unpatched software, visiting the wrong websites, and doing other irresponsible things like having the Java plug-in enabled in your web browser. It’s true – this is how most people pick up malware. But this isn’t the only way malware can spread.

We have previously written about “zero-day” exploits – vulnerabilities that the bad guys find first. Ones we don’t know about, which we can’t protect ourselves from. These flaws are corrected as soon as they’re found, but new ones inevitably pop up.

In other words, your computer could be infected just from you visiting a website. Even if you only visit websites you trust, the website itself could be compromised – something that happens with alarming frequency these days.

Now which one to install? We like Bitdefender for its low performance impact and out-of-the-way operation, as well as Avast for the strongest protection out there. Here’s how they work, and here’s why you need one:

An antivirus is your final layer of protection. If a website uses a security flaw in your browser or a plug-in like Flash to compromise your computer, it will often attempt to install malware – keyloggers, Trojans, rootkits, and all sorts of other bad things. These days, malware is the domain of organized crime looking to gather financial information and harness your computer for botnets.

If a zero-day in a piece of software you use does give the bad guys an opportunity to get malware onto your system, an antivirus is your last layer of defense. It shouldn’t be your only layer of protection, but it is an important one. And there’s no good reason not to run an antivirus on Windows.

Be sure to install every update that your antivirus releases. It’s easy to dismiss the update notifications when you’re engaged in something, but it’s just as easy to let it update in the background. Each update will keep your computer safe from malicious software and attacks.

Be smart about passwords

There are tons of reasons why using the same password everywhere is a mistake. Check out the following two ways to make sure you’re covered when it comes to logging in.

Use a password manager extension

Password managers are sweeping the web and and well-trusted by millions. Let’s run down how they work:

Password managers keep track of your passwords on multiple sites so you never need to remember your password when it’s time to log in. This way you can memorize your one master password and never have to worry about remembering any of the others. This is enormously convenient, but what’s more important is the added security benefits. A good password manager can help generate incomprehensible passwords, store them in its database, and decode them locally, only one your machine, when it needs to enter them into the web site. You can use a password manager to generate a unique, complex password for every site you visit. Each site will have a different password, you’ll have no idea what any of them are, and all you’ll have to do is remember the one master password you set for it.

Not sure you trust an extension to take control of all your passwords? Then be a boss and roll your own!

Be your own password manager

If you’re not too keen on installing an extension that will handle everything for you, you can create your own password that evolves and changes for every site. It will consist of a base password and an extension that changes with every site. Even if you already use a password manager, you can benefit from creating a great base password. Check out how Lifehacker does it:

  • Pick a phrase you can remember with a number in it, like “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
  • Change that number (in this case, “two”) to its numerical equivalent: A bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush
  • Condense the phrase by only using the first letter of each word: Abithiw2itb
  • Add some special characters you can remember: #Abithiw2itb!

You can take that password and add a suffix specific to each web site. Sticking with out example, let’s say you wanted to use this password for Lifehacker. Just add :L1feh@cker, :Lh, or whatever you’ll be able to remember to the end of the password: #Abithiw2itb!:Lh. This way you can type your complex password as you normally would and just append your abbreviation for the site you’re logging into.

Once you’ve made one, test it out at this password strength evaluator tool. Don’t worry, it’s safe to enter it there. Nothing is saved. Something as simple as “chase your dreams” (including spaces) would take 10 billion years for a computer to crack.

See? It’s that easy! A 100% safe internet is unfortunately impossible (just like real life) but a few simple steps will make help you browse without a care.

See our Knowledge Base if you have more questions.

Further Reading: