Browsing the web used to be hard to do and almost taboo with the likes of Prodigy and then AOL via a dial up modem. Computers were not found in every home and cell phones were bigger than the average lunchbox, when people used lunchboxes. However now the internet is being used even when people don’t know it is; such as with Smart Phones/TVs, within your car, and even home door locks. It’s everywhere and almost everyone uses is every day to an extent. The internet is so prevalent now that elections can be swayed by its power and reach which brings into light situations of hacking and leaks of private information.

How do these machines get hacked? How do private documents of US Politicians get into the hands of foreign news sources?

Well in many situations its due to negligence and lack of being informed. I want to help inform you so that you can do the best you can to protect yourself online. This is only the first in a number of installments as there is a lot to cover. For the first issue lets focus on general safe browsing best practices.

  1. Use a good antivirus product – There are many to choose from but they are all certainly not created equally. There are many options and we would be happy to offer our suggestions for a good solution but whichever you decide on there are a few important things to keep track of. Ensure that your antivirus is always updated (virus definitions and product updates), run scheduled scans (automatically and active protection) but also run full scans regularly to ensure there are no “bugs” lingering. If you see something pop up from your antivirus saying it blocked something, that is probably a good time to close everything and start a full scan. Also check your antivirus “Quarantine” to see how many things its catching or to clean it out if needed.
  2. Be careful of scams – Many times a window will pop up when browsing which can appear to be legit and usually it’s not. These windows are made to look legit and sometimes clicking ANYWHERE in the window including the X to close it can prompt it to install something on your machine. This window popping up in many cases does not mean you are infected (even if it says its deleting all of your files) but instead is just baiting you to click on something or call a number to a scammer. Please don’t call any of those numbers! If you see these windows pop up its best to close your web browser entirely by opening Task Manager and stopping it. For example, if you are using Firefox or Chrome to browse the web then when you open Task Manager “End” those applications. Immediately after circumventing this threat may also be a good time to run an antivirus scan.
  3. Use a pop-up/ad blocker – Most browsers have a built in pop-up blocker or ad blocker, if not they have the ability to install a third party option. These can be great if they are legit (not ads or malware themselves) and they are configured properly. Again we have our own suggestions for these and would be happy to offer our suggestions or assistance installing them.
  4. Stay away from shady websites and emails – You know the type, you go to the page and windows start popping up all over the place. Just get off that site and if it pops up a window when you try to get away you know it’s a bad site, refer to number 3 above on how to close your browser in this case. Other types of sites to be careful visiting are websites that your browser warns you could be unsafe. Unless you are aware of the reason why it’s not safe then chances are you should stay away. If someone sends you a link to open via email, text, instant messages, etc. and you do not know who they are and/or why they are sending it it could be a link to malicious content. Even if you know the name, pay close attention to the actual sender address as it could be spoofed.
  5. Password, password, password – Use a good complex password and change it regularly. This goes for your computer as well as every website that you visit that you have to log in to. If you have a weak password (especially for email use) then the chances of it being hacked or cracked are really good. I am sure you have received spam that appears to be from someone you actually do know, but chances are it’s a spammer who has cracked into that person’s email account (Yahoo, AOL, Gmail, etc.) to download their name and address book. So even after that person changes their password the spammer has this information and will continue to send spam that is from a different bogus email account. So you can say that essentially keeping a strong password and changing it frequently is not just to keep yourself safe it’s also contributing to a safer society! We recommend 6-8 characters including an upper case letter, lowercase letter, number, and special character such as “Cavs2016!” which satisfies all of these complexity requirements. Make up your own, and no that’s not any of mine! 😉

These are just a few of the simple things you can do to help browse the internet safely. There are MANY more things to consider but adhering to all of these is a good start. We will try to continue these entries with more information such as specific to smartphones, tablets, PC/MAC, etc. If you have any requests for content please contact us and we would be happy to cover it.

If you have any questions or if you need help with any of this, we would be happy to assist!