Internet and E-mail Safety (and security)

In this blog, let’s look more closely at internet and e-mail scams and security.

Internet
Knowledge is power – and never truer than when surfing the net. The most common risks are viruses, key-stroke recordings, miscellaneous malware and Trojan horses.

Viruses do the same thing to your computer as they do to us – they make it sick; they can even kill it. Key-stroke recording software is installed by hackers and allows them to record all of your keystrokes with particular attention to usernames and passwords – they love banking, credit card and email access the most. Malware is also malicious as it can take many forms: from tracking your internet use patterns to copying files to a remote computer to erasing key pieces of software. Trojan horses get uploaded and then sit in wait – silently for a triggering date or event and then allow the hackers to take control of your computer and use it for attacking other computers.

The only 100% protection against these threats is don’t surf the net! Now let’s get into reality – hardware and/or software firewalls together with anti-virus and anti-malware software.

Hardware firewalls are called routers and they act as a first line of defence between the internet and your computer and are relatively inexpensive to acquire and are not very complicated to install. Software firewalls are generally a second layer of protection after the hardware firewall. Most reputable commercial ISPs (Internet Service Providers) provide this as part of their customer offering and may reside either on their servers or on your computer.

Anti-virus and anti-malware software is sold by several companies (Norton, AVG, Kasperski, F-secure and MalwareBytes to name but a few). Most suppliers offer free versions of their protection suites but remember if it is free, there is a reason! They are in business to make money and the free versions are teasers only. They do help of course, but don’t provide complete protection, so beware of freebies! Running “in the background” on your computer, they analyse every attempt at both inbound and outbound communication over the internet for suspicious software code and either block or delete access to outsiders. You can control all of these functions through a “control panel” that is installed with this software.

Be very selective on the websites that you visit. Some categories are higher risk for spreading these problems than others – dating sites, erotic picture and video sites together social media are the greatest sources of problems – avoid them!

E-mail
Rule No. 1 – if you don’t know the sender or you didn’t sign up for any e-mail notifications from stores or websites, DON’T OPEN IT! The “Nigeria” scams and grandchild scams are run constantly on e-mail as are Lottery scams of various types.
Rule No. 2 – see Rule No. 1.
Rule No. 3 – ensure you have a full-version of both anti-virus and anti-malware software installed on your computer that gets automatic signature updates – preferably daily – to stop evolving threats. If you follow these 3 rules, you are going to be safe 98% of the time.

The final 2% is chain-mail – the electronic version of old chain-letters – if you get one, regardless of the identity of the sender, do not forward it – even if it is from a close relative or friend – don’t!

General
A great reference book on scams is from the Competition Bureau of Canada – The Little Black Book of Scams – click here to get there immediately. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre has a website that is all about various scams and identity theft. Click here – Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre Home Page.

TANSTAAFL – “free” email accounts – oh really??

Going back in time for this one – due to recent article in Vancouver Sun and other places about a pending class-action suit (at least the plaintiff is asking for CA status) regarding the “mining” of information from emails sent to and from so-called “free” email accounts.

So let’s get off the privacy bit for a minute – how many people REALLY believe that these accounts are made available out of the goodness of the hearts (if any) of these corporations?? Same goes for E-Post by the way!

Remember – There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

Browsers, search engines and all of the other so-called “free-ware” comes with the price that we leave footprints in the sand – crumbs on the forest floor (a la Hansel and Gretel) or whatever. Those bits of information are pure gold to these companies.

They indicate our taste in everything from food to entertainment to clothes to our political beliefs to where we bank to what we read and watch to the news we choose to believe to x-rated websites we view – if you use an internet connection to do ANYTHING there is a trail to and from you to everywhere you go – and back. I hope no-one is really under any illusions to the contrary – and parents need to be VERY aware of their childrens’ usage. BTW, this also applies to texting on cell-phones, iPhones etc. – if it is electronic, there is a trace – just keep that in mind all the time.

All of these corporations sell the information they gleen from our wanderings to other businesses so they can target us with their advertising and also help (at least in theory) designing and creating new products and services.

So what can you do about it – short answer, virtually nothing! There are some commercially available software packages that promise browsing anonymity – but just think about that for a minute – too good to be true?? YES. Nothing can screen you or your on-line presence from someone or some entity that is determined to find out what we are doing on the world of floating electrons.

Another issue is wi-fi security. Unfortunately, many people with wireless/wi-fi connections in their homes leave their networks unprotected completed – no security – or use such simple passwords like password admin administrator etc. – believe it or not. As a fun exercise, take your wireless/wi-fi enabled laptop or notebook with you in your car. Drive around with your wireless/wi-fi radar enabled, and you will see lots of SECURED access points but also a high number of UNSECURED ones. Internet cafes are wonderful and convenient, but remember, you are in a public place using a public connection.

So how is this all about TANSTAAFL – part of the cost we pay, although not in terms of absolute cash, we pay by giving up some measure of privacy. You need to determine the value and worth of your privacy!