The Internet is simultaneously a bastion of knowledge and community and a wretched hive of scum and villainy. With desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, video game consoles and even your TV connected, keeping safe on the Internet can be a big job. Before you ride off into the digital frontier, review a few safety rules.
Secure Your Devices and Browser
First and foremost, secure your devices against viral infection and attacks. Plenty of anti-virus suites are available, both free and paid, to secure your computer against attack. Avast, AVG, Bitdefender and McAfee are all solid choices with free and paid options. Anti-malware software like SuperAntiSpyware and Malwarebytes are also useful apps for your security tool chest. You'll want to secure whatever devices you can -- computers, phones and tablets are choice targets for online attack. After you've secured your devices, secure your Web browser. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome all include built-in security features, but these can be enhanced with free add-ons from reputable developers. These add-ons include tools that prevent tracking, alert you to dangerous websites and display a website's reputation based on user feedback, among other useful security tools.
Shop Safely and Guard Your Card
Online shopping is a big part of the modern Internet experience and a potentially dangerous one. Shop only with trustworthy, reputable sites that offer comprehensive consumer protection policies and are accredited by organizations like Verisign or the Better Business Bureau. Shops that use PayPal for transactions are also generally trustworthy, as PayPal has extensive customer protection practices and a system for filing grievances. Generally, large and well-known retailers are also safe choices, but always trust your gut -- if something seems off, don't make the purchase. In addition, keep your credit card information private -- any disreputable business or individual who gets their hands on your credit card information can hijack your identity and make fraudulent purchases.
Protect Personal Information and Passwords
In the era of social networking, personal information is easier to share than ever. It's also easier to dig up and use against you for identity theft. Exercise extreme caution when sharing personal information with individuals or websites -- the less out there about you, the better. Make judicious use of privacy options on your social networks, only revealing vital information to those you trust. Keep your security questions appropriately abstract -- if your secret answer is your mother's maiden name, a scammer can just look up your Facebook, find your mom on your friends list and get the name from there. You should also never give out your passwords and never make them easy or obvious to decode. A combination of capital and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols can often produce a password that's difficult to crack. When possible, deselect options to "keep me logged in" or "remember my password" on websites -- anyone hijacking your browser or physically stealing your computer can access these websites.
Cautious Downloading and Clicking
Many viral infections start with an innocuous click of the mouse or download. You should never download files or programs from websites you don't trust or open email attachments from people you don't know. Even attachments from trusted email senders should be viewed with a level of suspicion -- some viruses are sent by hijacking email accounts and spamming an attachment to everyone on the account's contact list. Avoid clicking on advertisements in general but especially for sites or products that seem unfamiliar or untrustworthy. Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it likely is -- and it could be host to a digital disaster waiting to happen.
Stranger Danger and Preventing Abuse
Parents are constantly reminded about teaching their kids to protect themselves against online strangers, but these individuals can pose just as great a threat to adults. When interacting with people online in any environment, you should exercise extreme caution -- especially if someone begins asking for personal information or attempts a sales pitch. Online harassment and abuse can also be a serious problem for kids and adults. If someone you talk to online is becomes abusive or harasses you, immediately drop contact before things escalate. Be careful whom you befriend online -- not everyone is friendly or forthcoming on the Internet.
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