The Internet is a double edged sword. It brings us a world of information and a new and devastating security threat. Is your computer safe?
In a world where identity theft ranks in first place of all personal property crimes, many Internet users seem compelled to facilitate the crime. For whatever reason, otherwise bright and savvy web surfers make it possible for unsavory types to easily access their personal information. Using the information we seem so eager to share, these bad guys hack existing accounts, buy cars, get loans, and gleefully go about the business of destroying the credit-worthiness of families across the country.
In 2012 alone, identity theft cost Americans $24.7 billion, whereas losses for crimes like burglary, auto and property theft only racked up a score of$14 billion. Take some common sense steps to protect your family from this growing segment of the underworld.
Imagine the world is watching – because it is
Everybody knows not to trust your social security or banking information online with just anybody, but few of us think about the importance of other numbers in our lives. Frequently we use passwords which contain wedding dates or other anniversary numbers. We assign our son’s hockey jersey number to our bank account password and then proudly post pictures of Harry Hockeystar on Facebook for the entire world to see. Of course your friends and neighbors just see Harry. The underworld types see “Harry22,” and the rest is history.
It isn’t enough for the adults in your household to be vigilant. You must also teach your children that images and chat posted to social media sites can be dangerous for a whole cadre of reasons, some of which are even more horrific than losing your fortune. Pedophiles who might haunt the web are drawn to pictures of cute kids . . . especially those who also post where they go to school, where they live . . . well, you get the picture.
You can take steps to ensure that only your friends can see your posts on social media and should do so immediately, if you have not already. Go to the settings section of your Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, or other account. Check to be sure your privacy settings are, indeed, set to private.
There IS an App for That
Because online privacy is becoming such an issue for those who own and use a computer or other electronic device online, the technical gurus from around the world are busy creating devices for your devices that will help to keep you safe. Some are free, others are monthly services, and some are better than a castle moat, and cost nearly as much. The important thing about these applications is that they generate super-safe passwords and, best of all, keep track of them for you so that you won’t be tempted into the bad habit of using one password for multiple sites.
Many web browsers offer a password manager with their other services, but they don’t all let you create a master password to protect your list. You should also be aware that your virus protection software may also have a password protection feature which is built into the software. The better the quality of your virus protection, the better will be the tools for password management.
Malware, Spyware and other Robotic Gangstas
Malicious Software, aka MalWare, is on the rise. These “programs” come into your computer via innocent looking files or images on the web and work to gather all manner of information about you and your family. Malicious software can also hijack your computer to send spam messages, display advertisements, or perform other illegal activities. These robots collect data and report back to the criminal on the other end where your personal information can be sold for a hefty price. If you’re unfamiliar with the sundry viruses and what they do, look at this list:
Viruses are self perpetuating programs that can slow down or kill your system. They can also destroy and alter data.
Spyware, as the name implies, spies on your computer’s activity in order to steal passwords, online banking, and other personal information. A special kind of program, a “keylogger,” records every keystroke you make and sends it back to the bad guys so that they may mine your data.
Adware irritates you incessantly with advertisements that pop up making working online difficult.
The good news about these kinds of viruses is that you can almost always eliminate malware with antivirus programs. The key, of course, is keeping that software updated. There are new virus threats discovered every day. If you miss an update, you may be at risk.
Inherent in the convenience and bountiful informational ability of the Internet are the dangers we’ve discussed here. You should know that you may never be completely safe on the World Wide Web. You may be prey to a global network of cyber crooks who want your personal information. Your job is NOT HELPING THEM.