Q: How can I be safer while using the Internet? There are so many companies claiming to sell software that will make me safe, but what do I really need?
A: In my last column, I began enumerating seven ways to make yourself safer while online. Here’s the rest of that list:
Stay up to date: The vast majority of virus infections don't have to happen. Software vulnerabilities that the viruses exploit usually have patches available by the time the virus reaches a computer.
The problem? The user simply failed to install the latest patches and updates that would have prevented the infection in the first place. The solution is simple: enable automatic updates and visit Windows Update periodically.
Get educated: To be blunt, all the protection in the world won't save you from yourself. Don't open attachments that you aren't positive are OK. Don't fall for phishing scams. Don't click on links in emails that you aren't positive are safe. Don't install "free" software without checking it out first.
Many "free" packages are free because they come loaded with spyware, adware, and worse. When visiting a web site, did you get a pop-up asking if it's OK to install some software you're not sure of because you've never heard of it? Don't say "OK."
Not sure about some security warning you've been given? Don't ignore it. Choose strong passwords, and don't share them with others.
Secure your mobile connection: If you're traveling and using Internet hot spots, free Wifi, or Internet cafés, you must take extra precautions. Make sure your web email access is via secure (https) connections, or that your regular mail is over an encrypted connection as well.
Don't let people "shoulder surf" and steal your password by watching you type it in a public place. Make sure your home Wifi has WPA security enabled in case someone walks past your house and wants a free hop onto the Internet.
Don't forget the physical: An old computer adage is that "if it's not physically secure, it's not secure." All of the precautions I've listed above are pointless if other people can get at your computer. They may not follow the safety rules I've laid out.
A thief can easily get at all the unencrypted data on your computer if it can be physically accessed. The common scenario is a laptop being stolen during travel, but I have received reports from readers whose own family or roommate accessed the computer without their knowledge.