Grown children are buying computers for their parents to improve communication. Many of the “long-in-tooth” crowd pick it right up. Others, not so much. This series is intended for the absolute beginner, but you might get something out of it too.
The internet continues to grow in importance in our daily lives. It offers us an opportunity to retrieve a seemingly infinite amount of information. Every dictionary, thesaurus, encyclopedia, news source and educational institution in the world is at your fingertips (literally). It has enabled immediacy in social communication and business applications. But it can also lead to hours of hair-pulling, expletive-bellowing frustration. This guide can serve as a quick resource for those times when your hair and your dignity are threatened. So, let’s get started:
Safe surfing means having a basic understanding of what dangers exist and how they affect you. Viruses, spyware, malware and adware affect Microsoft Windows computers primarily. Hackers are indiscriminate, but the vast majority of hackers typically attempt to compromise Windows machines. Due to the architecture of Microsoft software and operating system, more opportunities exist for the hacker to exploit Windows, than in Linux machines or Macs.
The specific definitions of spyware, malware, et al; are unimportant. The idea is to know what to look for, avoid them when possible and/or remove them once they’ve landed on your computer. Avoiding them means knowing what not to click on, removing them is the practice of cleaning out your machine from time to time.
Some adware and spyware are unavoidable annoyances, but not much of a threat. Viruses, malware, key-loggers and rootkits on the other hand can pose a serious security risk. The repercussions of an infection from these little programs, which is what they are, can range from annoying and/or embarrassing pop-ups to the compromise of your bank accounts and all of your personal information. Notice I didn’t say “some” or “a little bit of.”
If that last sentence scared you, GOOD. The hackers still have the upper hand, but, that doesn’t mean you have to be afraid of surfing the internet. There are tools you can use and techniques you can employ to protect your privacy.
First Line of Defense:
Put a router in between your computer and your modem. Even if there’s only one computer in the house, a router is a hardware firewall which effectively anonymizes the ip address of your computer. Software firewalls, like the Windows Security Center, are easily compromised and highly ineffective.
To other computers, your computer is a series of numbers called an ip address. Each computer has a unique ip address, sort of like a fingerprint. The internet is really just a bunch of computers all connected together in a network. The network is made up of Servers and Clients. Servers direct all the traffic, track and log activity and store information. Clients are users, like you.
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When you open a browser (Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari, etc) you make a call or a request to a Server, which is typically your Internet Service Provider or ISP. The Server sends your request to it’s intended destination which is usually a website that resides on a Server somewhere else. Your identifier, in the form of your ip address is stored on every server you visit and are directed to, and through.
When one of these bad programs or a hacker obtains the ip address of your actual computer it/they begin a series of searches for what’s called open ports. Your computer has over 10,000 ports that are used by different programs on your computer for a variety of functions, but most often they are used as a portal for a specific program to communicate with other components via the internet or network.
Hackers, both white-hat (good guys, right) and black-hat, have found vulnerabilities in the code used to actuate these processes and have developed what are called exploits to attempt to break in or compromise a computer system.
That’s one reason Microsoft regularly sends out updates. Updates many times are patches or fixes to their own code which repair the vulnerabilities. That’s why anyone in IT recommends updating your system regularly.
Your Router is the Gatekeeper
The benefit of putting a router between your computer and your modem, is that a router adopts the ip address and basically becomes the gatekeeper between you and the internet. A router is a small computer that only runs one program, typically utilizing the Linux OS, which is extremely difficult to hack if not impossible.
Therefore, hacker exploits are stopped at the gate as it were, unless you inadvertently let them in by clicking on the wrong link.
Just Say No To Pop-ups
If you see a pop-up that you weren’t expecting, close it. On my FREE Guide to Internet Security, I show several examples of fake system messages. Unfortunately, the bad guys have gotten good at replicating actual websites and system messages. If you are unsure, Google can be your best friend. Look at the message and either write down the contents of the message or open up a separate browser tab or window and do a Google search based on the message. Please read my FREE Guide for more info.
Another point of entry is through email and Impostor Links. Impostor links lead to Impostor sites which look exactly like Bank, Credit Card, etc sites, but are clones whose sole intent is to get your information.
One way to check whether or not a link is an imposter is to place your mouse pointer over the link, without clicking on it and look at the web address in the bottom left-hand corner of your browser window as illustrated below.
click on pic to enlarge
By looking at the link you can find clues as to whether or not the link is real. For instance, most websites in the US end in .com, .net, .org, .biz or .info. Below are some examples:
- http://www.bankofamerica.com – (real link to real site)
- http://de.bankofamerica.com – (fake)
- http://www.bankofamerica.de.com – (fake)
- http://www.bankofamerica.com.ru – (fake)
- http://www.bankofamerica.info.ru.com – (fake)
ISP spam, virus and phishing filters have improved, but every now and then something will slip through and it pays, literally to be on the safe side.
I hope this first installment has been helpful. Please don’t hesitate to comment, critique or contact me with any questions.