Staying Safe on the Internet

How do you avoid the scary bad guys of the internet, that are looking to steal your information or your money at every turn? This is a cruel fact of life on the internet. It seems you can never let your guard down – you always have to be on the lookout for the tricksters…and they are everywhere.

In the old days (you know, back in the 90’s and 00’s) it was easy. You bought some anti-virus software, made sure it was working, stayed away from the underbelly of the internet, didn’t open emails from folks you didn’t know, and you were good to go. Boy, things were simple then.

Back then, viruses (“Malware” was a new concept) got to your computer by sneaking in and installing themselves. They could come by email, or an infected floppy disk could install the virus on every computer that used the disk. The key here is that the bad guy would install itself.

Additionally, viruses in the old days weren’t after your money. They were more about disabling your computer, or using it as a means to cause problems for someone else. The virus writers were more like graffiti artists or protesters.

Then – everything changed. The entire raison d’etre of the virus writers shifted. As more people used their computer to purchase things online, it became possible to steal credit card information or sell bogus products for profit. Suddenly, the bad guys could get paid for their efforts – and paid well. This caused explosive growth in this nefarious industry.

To avoid the anti-virus software, the bad guys also had to change the way they got to your computer. They couldn’t sneak in and install themselves any longer. Instead, they figured out they could trick the end user (that’s you!) into installing the software for them! Unfortunately, anti-virus softwares treat software that you install with less suspicion than software that tries to install without your knowledge. Malware writers take advantage of this fact, and are waging all out psychological war. All they have to do is make you think that you need to install something, or click a button, or visit a website. If they are successful, then you are actually doing their dirty work for them, and your risk of infection is much, much greater.

If you go to a website for some reason or another and you are greeted with a message that you need to install some video player or driver to see the content you are after, this should raise a red flag. The first thing you should do is ignore or cancel the message. If the content presents itself anyway, then whatever the message was talking about wasn’t necessary.

The take away here is that you should be suspicious of every single click you make while on email or the internet. Don’t ever open zipped email attachments, even if they come from people you know. Don’t fall prey to those popup messages that implore you to install something. Bonus points for using a safer browser than Internet Explorer; like Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox. Don’t be scared, be smart!

As always, if you have any questions, give us a call – we’re here to help.

Note: We would like to thank Mark of Home Computer Help for allowing us to use this article. 

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