1 A WorkLife4You Guide Seven Practices for Computer Security Access to information and entertainment, credit and financial services, products from every corner of the world even to your work is greater than ever. Thanks to the Internet, you can play a friendly game with an opponent across the ocean; review and rate videos, songs, or clothes; get expert advice in an instant; or collaborate with far-flung coworkers in a virtual office. But the Internet and the anonymity it affords also can give online scammers, hackers, and identity thieves access to your computer, personal information, finances, and more. With awareness as your safety net, you can minimize the chance of an Internet mishap. Being on guard online helps you protect your information, your computer, and your money. To be safer and more secure online, make these seven practices part of your online routine. 1. Protect Your Personal Information It s Valuable To an identity thief, your personal information can provide instant access to your financial accounts, your credit record, and other assets. If you think no one would be interested in YOUR personal information, think again. ANYONE can be a victim of identity theft. In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission, millions of people become victims every year. (Visit the LifeCare library to learn what to do if your identity is stolen or your personal or financial information has been compromised online or in the real world.) Seven Practices for Computer Security 1. Protect your personal information it s valuable 2. Know who you re dealing with 3. Use security software that updates automatically 4. Keep your operating system and web browser up-to-date, and learn about their security features 5. Keep your passwords safe, secure, and strong 6. Back up important files 7. Learn what to do in an e-mergency How do criminals get your personal information online? One way is by lying about who they are, to convince you to share your account numbers, passwords, and other information so they can get your money or buy things in your name. The scam is called phishing : criminals send , text, or pop-up messages that appear to come from your bank, a government agency, an online seller or another organization with which you do business. The message asks you to click to a website or call a phone number to update your account information or claim a prize or benefit. It might suggest something bad will happen if you don t respond quickly with your personal information. In reality, legitimate businesses should never use , popups, or text messages to ask for your personal information.
3 on your hard drive, like your tax returns, messages, medical records, photos, or other personal documents. In addition, you may unwittingly download malware or pornography labeled as something else. Or you may download material that is protected by the copyright laws, which would mean you could be breaking the law. If you decide to use file-sharing software, be sure to read the End User Licensing Agreement to be sure you understand and are willing to tolerate the potential risks of free downloads. 3. Use Security Software that Updates Automatically Keep your security software active and current: at a minimum, your computer should have anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a firewall. You can buy stand-alone programs for each element or a security suite that includes these programs from a variety of sources, including commercial vendors or from your Internet Service Provider. Security software that comes pre-installed on a computer generally works for a short time unless you pay a subscription fee to keep it in effect. In any case, security software protects against the newest threats only if it is up-to-date. That s why it is critical to set your security software to update automatically. Some scam artists distribute malware disguised as anti-spyware software. Resist buying software in response to unexpected pop-up messages or s, especially ads that claim to have scanned your computer and detected malware. That s a tactic scammers have used to spread malware. OnGuardOnline.gov can connect you to a list of security tools from legitimate security vendors selected by GetNetWise, a project of the Internet Education Foundation. Once you confirm that your security software is up-to-date, run it to scan your computer for viruses and spyware. If the program identifies a file as a problem, delete it. Anti-Virus Software Anti-virus software protects your computer from viruses that can destroy your data, slow your computer s performance, cause a crash, or even allow spammers to send through your account. It works by scanning your computer and your incoming for viruses, and then deleting them. Anti-Spyware Software Installed on your computer without your consent, spyware software monitors or controls your computer use. It may be used to send you pop-up ads, redirect your computer to websites, monitor your Internet surfing, or record your keystrokes, which, in turn, could lead to the theft of your personal information. A computer may be infected with spyware if it: Slows down, malfunctions, or displays repeated error messages Won t shut down or restart Serves up a lot of pop-up ads, or displays them when you re not surfing the web Displays web pages or programs you didn t intend to use, or sends s you didn t write. Firewalls A firewall helps keep hackers from using your computer to send out your personal information without your permission. While anti-virus software scans incoming and files, a firewall is like a guard, watching for outside attempts to access your system and blocking communications to and from sources you don t permit.
4 Don t Let Your Computer Become Part of a BotNet Some spammers search the Internet for unprotected computers they can control and use anonymously to send spam, turning them into a robot network, known as a botnet. Also known as a zombie army, a botnet is made up of many thousands of home computers sending s by the millions. Most spam is sent remotely this way; millions of home computers are part of botnets. Spammers scan the Internet to find computers that aren t protected by security software, and then install bad software known as malware through those open doors. That s one reason why up-to-date security software is critical. Malware may be hidden in free software applications. It can be appealing to download free software like games, file-sharing programs, customized toolbars, and the like. But sometimes just visiting a website or downloading files may cause a drive-by download, which could turn your computer into a bot. Another way spammers take over your computer is by sending you an with attachments, links or images which, if you click on or open them, install hidden software. Be cautious about opening any attachments or downloading files from s you receive. Don t open an attachment even if it looks like it s from a friend or coworker unless you are expecting it or know what it contains. If you send an with an attached file, include a text message explaining what it is. 4. Keep Your Operating System and Web Browser Up-to-Date, and Learn About Their Security Features Hackers also take advantage of web browsers (like Firefox or Internet Explorer) and operating system software (like Windows or Mac s OS) that don t have the latest security updates. Operating system companies issue security patches for flaws that they find in their systems, so it s important to set your operating system and web browser software to download and install security patches automatically. In addition, you can increase your online security by changing the built-in security and privacy settings in your operating system or browser. Check the Tools or Options menus to learn how to upgrade from the default settings. Use your Help function for more information about your choices. If you re not using your computer for an extended period, disconnect it from the Internet. When it s disconnected, the computer doesn t send or receive information from the Internet and isn t vulnerable to hackers. 5. Protect Your Passwords Keep your passwords in a secure place, and out of plain sight. Don t share them on the Internet, over , or on the phone. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) should never ask for your password. In addition, hackers may try to figure out your passwords to gain access to your computer. To make it tougher for them: Use passwords that have at least eight characters and include numbers or symbols. The longer the password, the tougher it is to crack. A 12-character password is stronger than one with eight characters. Avoid common words: some hackers use programs that can try every word in the dictionary. Don t use your personal information, your login name, or adjacent keys on the keyboard as passwords. Change your passwords regularly (at a minimum, every 90 days). Don t use the same password for each online account you access.
5 6. Back Up Important Files If you follow these tips, you re more likely to be free of interference from hackers, viruses, and spammers. But no system is completely secure. If you have important files stored on your computer, copy them onto a removable disc or an external hard drive, and store it in a safe place. 7. Learn What to Do in an E-mergency If you suspect malware is lurking on your computer, stop shopping, banking, and other online activities that involve user names, passwords, or other sensitive information. Malware could be sending your personal information to identity thieves. Confirm that your security software is upto-date, then use it to scan your computer. Delete everything the program identifies as a problem. You may have to restart your computer for the changes to take effect. If the problem persists after you exhaust your ability to diagnose and treat it, you might want to call for professional help. If your computer is covered by a warranty that offers free tech support, contact the manufacturer. Before you call, write down the model and serial number of your computer, the name of any software you ve installed, and a short description of the problem. Your notes will help you give an accurate description to the technician. If you need professional help, if your machine isn t covered by a warranty, or if your security software isn t doing the job properly, you may need to pay for technical support. Many companies including some affiliated with retail stores offer tech support via the phone, online, at their store, or in your home. Telephone or online help generally are the least expensive ways to access support services especially if there s a tollfree helpline but you may have to do some of the work yourself. Taking your computer to a store usually is less expensive than hiring a technician or repair person to come into your home. Once your computer is back up and running, think about how malware could have been downloaded to your machine, and what you could do to avoid it in the future. Also, talk about safe computing with anyone else who uses the computer. Tell them that some online activity can put a computer at risk, and share the seven practices for safer computing. Tips for Parents Parents sometimes can feel outpaced by their technologically savvy kids. Technology aside, there are lessons that parents can teach to help kids stay safer as they socialize online. Most ISPs provide parental controls, or you can buy separate software. But no software can substitute for parental supervision. Talk to your kids about safe computing practices, as well as the things they re seeing and doing online. Read more about chatting with kids about being online. How to Report Hacking or a Computer Virus Alert the appropriate authorities by contacting: Your ISP and the hacker s ISP (if you can tell what it is). You can usually find an ISP s address on its website. Include information on the incident from your firewall s log file. By alerting the ISP to the problem on its system, you can help it prevent similar problems in the future. The FBI at To fight computer criminals, they need to hear from you. Internet Fraud If a scammer takes advantage of you through an Internet auction, when you re shopping online, or in any other way, report it to the Federal Trade Commission, at complaint. The FTC enters Internet, identity
6 theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. Deceptive Spam If you get deceptive spam, including phishing for your information, forward it to Be sure to include the full header of the , including all routing information. You also may report phishing to The Anti-Phishing Working Group, a consortium of ISPs, security vendors, financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, uses these reports to fight phishing. Divulged Personal Information If you believe you have mistakenly given your personal information to a fraudster, file a complaint at and then visit the Federal Trade Commission s Identity Theft website at ftc.gov/idtheft to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from a potential theft of your identity. Social Networking Sites Trust your instincts and tell kids to trust theirs if you (or they) are suspicious about something on a social networking site. If kids feel threatened by someone or uncomfortable because of something online, encourage them to tell you. You can then help them report concerns to the police and to the social networking site. Most sites have links where users can immediately report abusive, suspicious, or inappropriate online behavior.
8 Source: OnGuard Online This publication is for general informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any reader with specific authority, advice or recommendations. Copyright 2011 LifeCare, Inc. All rights reserved. LifeCare, Inc. is the worldwide provider of Life Event Management Services #7391_SevenPracticesforComputerSafety_FOH_1210
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