The internet is a vast, world wide network connecting computers and people around the globe. Millions use the net every day for research, entertainment, financial matters, etc. Computers are becoming less and less expensive and more available to anyone who wants one.
It is no surprise that some people have begun using the computer for less than honorable purposes. The use of a computer over the internet offers anonymity to the unscrupulous user and many times will embolden users to do what they would not normally do. The reality of the matter is that offenders are all over the internet all the time.
Following is a list of tips that can make your use of the internet more fun and a little safer:
- Avoid unfamiliar "Chat Rooms". Chat rooms are places where many people can gather and discuss various topics of mutual interest. Postings may be public, or they may be private, one-on-one communications. Offenders have a tendency to lurk in chat rooms and check out the user profiles of the people visiting the room. They may contact you with undesirable messages over the internet, or, if they found enough information on you in your profile, they may try to meet you in person.
- Don't talk to people you don't know. The perceived anonymity offenders take advantage of can easily fool you. You may think you are talking to a 16 year old cute guy or girl, but in reality, it's a 45 year old with bad intentions.
- Never use your real name, age, or indication of your gender in your screen name or email address. You don't need to advertise yourself. The most prevalent internet crime today is cyber stalking. Avoid drawing unnecessary attention to yourself.
- Never post personal information in a user profile. Yahoo!, MSN, AOL, and other instant messaging tools will allow you to create a member profile where you post information about yourself. If you post your picture, name, home address, or even your high school, it's not difficult for offenders to find you. Public resources on the internet and a little surveillance will give you away if you provide the smallest bit of information for an offender to use.
- Use an up-to-date firewall. Hackers are everywhere. They can reach out and touch you from anywhere on the globe. A firewall will block their pre-attack probes, called port scans. Your computer has 65,535 ports or "ears" that listen for other computers. Hackers scan these ports to see if an application is using one to communicate with other computers on the Internet. Your firewall should also block egress traffic, or communications from a virus that made it onto your computer as it tries to "phone home" with your personal information.
- Use an up-to-date virus scanner. Most virus scanners will automatically add virus definitions. You need to have the latest definitions in order to detect the latest viruses. Update these definitions at least once a week.
- Use Windows Update. Windows Update provides patches for known vulnerabilities in the Windows operating system and for other Microsoft products. Today, hackers are trading exploits publicly within a day of the announcement of a vulnerability. In other words, the methods of attacking your computer are made public and traded over the internet between hackers at the same time you would be made aware that there is a problem that needs to be addressed in your software. Windows Update can be automated to check for patches and will even install them automatically. See the Windows Update site for more information.
- Avoid opening email from someone you don't know and even email from known persons with unexpected attachments. Email can be found in different formats. One of the most common formats is HTML. This type of email enables the user to display an email as if it were a web page with links and pictures. These links can take you places other than where you think you are going. Email attachments can contain viruses and Trojans. Always use a virus scanner to scan attachments before opening them.
- Report any incidents to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (iC3).