- Written by David Saunders
Whenever one walks out the front door you are immediately placing yourself at risk of any number of things, thousands in fact. Let's think of a few shall we? You could be run over by a car, crashed on by a plane, struck by lightning, attacked and killed by a mugger, be blown up by an idiot with a grudge or contract a fatal disease, I could go on... The thing is, most of us never think about these potential dangers for we are equipped to deal with such risks in society and the world at large so do the best we can to avoid them, and that is all we can do. Unless a person suffers from paranoia we don't even consider this stuff when we are out, however all of us subconsciously adjust and re-adjust our psyche to minimize these risks. Mostly it works but sometimes we get it wrong, and one could drive themselves crazy thinking about it.
The same goes for the internet: Every time you boot up your PC you step out of the security of your own home and into a virtual world full of risk. Unfortunately we do not possess hundreds of thousands of years of racially ingrained experience of the dangers of the internet, therefore one needs to employ a bit of commonsense. Just because the people you interact with online aren't physically present does not mean they cannot harm you in some way. Bear that in mind please as it is the most important thing to remember when dealing with the net. There are sensible precautions one can take however: Educate yourself - Learn the basics about the machine you use to connect to the world and how to protect both it and yourself in the process, it isn't rocket science. A search engine is your friend here.
There are many thousands of websites which will walk you through what you need to protect yourself and your PC. Search for them and more importantly, read them. If you prefer to read from a physical medium then print the requisite information using your printer, you would be amazed how many people don't consider this simple action. Never dismiss the importance of printing out hardcopy. In my experience many attribute more importance to information printed on paper than that which they read from a screen, it's human nature and demonstrates perfectly the fundamental problem we are dealing with here. As for security software, one doesn't need to know how each line of code works, just that it does. How? Again, perform a search on your favourite search engine. Typing "Which is the best free/commercial AV program?" into a search engine will throw up thousands of results, however you won't need to read them all, by the end of the second page you will have a darned good idea which you prefer, or at least have a short list of those to try out. And another thing, don't stand still on this one. For some reason, once many of us have downloaded and installed security software on our computers we tend stick with it through thick and thin, even when it is obviously not doing its job properly, why? Because we become comfortable with it and generally people are afraid of change. Break the racial habit and perform the search I mentioned above every six months or so. Software companies are always refining their products or developing new ones so what may be the Bees Knees one month might become the scourge of Satan the next. Take control of your security needs by being flexible and read everything!
Another issue I come across regularly is with people who are 'protecting' their computers with software which is out of date. There's no easy way to put this, the situation arises because people are too lazy to read the documentation which is supplied with their computers. Those who lack sufficient knowledge of computers are the most common offenders. They tend to be a little afraid of their shiny new machines and convince themselves that any information contained within the documentation will go straight over their heads. What usually happens is that they get their teenage son, grandson or nephew, who is a whizz with computers, to set up their machines for them. He is invariably more interested in getting back to his crucial raid on World Of Warcraft, or else the 'love of his life' from Los Angeles, who he only began chatting to on Facebook an hour ago, is waiting for him with her ample bosom. As a consequence Sonny Jim piles through the process and before there is even time to ask whether he would like a nice cup of tea he's out the door and running down the garden path like a Moose in must, leaving a slightly bemused and confused relative buffeting about in his wake. Three to six months later the free security software supplied with the machine announces that it needs updating and what do you know, it wants to stick its hand in your wallet for the privilege. Most of those who find themselves in this predicament choose not to update (after all, what harm can it do?) and soldier on using software with out of date security libraries. For example, I went to visit one client a few years ago who had complained to me over the phone that her computer was slow and all sorts of dire warnings were popping up on her screen. When I got there and booted up the computer I discovered that the version of Norton she was using was three years out of date and consequently her PC was infested with an entire menagerie of viruses, malware and trojans which had managed to disable her firewall and had caused untold damage throughout her system, and all this because she hadn't read her documentation properly therefore she was completely oblivious to the fact that she needed to keep her AV software up to date. That was a very long job I can tell you. Once I had recovered her system for her she complained that her nephew had set it all up for her and had told her nothing about what she needed to do...
Dealing with social interactions on the net can be a little trickier. When communicating with people face to face your brain is constantly picking up on the little cues delivered subconsciously via body language, facial expressions and tonality of voice, which equips you with valuable additional information you need to help determine the state of mind and intentions of the individual or group you are interacting with. This ability is not available to you during online social intercourse therefore your brain is deprived of some of the essential information it needs to determine whether you are operating in a safe environment or not. This can leave you vulnerable to some of the opportunistic, mischievous and downright dangerous individuals who share our virtual world. However, if you follow the same rules you might apply when dealing with those who inhabit the physical world you won't go far wrong. For example, you would never walk up to a complete stranger on the street and begin discussing your private life with them as if you had known them all your life, now would you? Unbelievably I regularly witness just this sort of behaviour from those I have come to know online who I consider to be sober and intelligent people. Facebook members are the biggest offenders incidentally. It is as if they consider the keyboard and monitor in front of them to be an impenetrable security wall... Well it isn't. Again, commonsense can prevail here but it needs to be switched on before one even logs onto the net and not a moment later. You are responsible for your own safety and your security online is determined equally by your knowledge, actions and responses. Keep that in mind and your online experience will improve dramatically...
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