There are so many different ways in which users can be exposed to malicious traffic while surfing the internet. Therefore learning how to stay safe on the internet should be a top priority for everyone.
For those of you who don’t know, I work in Information Technology (IT) and I regularly get asked questions like “How do I stay safe on the internet?” or “Why does my internet browser keep opening on a different homepage”. I also regularly hear about peoples email, social media or online banking accounts being hacked.
Unfortunately, most of the time people only realise their computer has been compromised when their bank suspends their account, or when the hacker has sent off messages to all of the users friends directing them to a malicious website.
Recently I have noticed a lot of peoples twitter accounts have been sending tweets or direct messages to other users with the message – “FYI this profile on twitter [LINK] is spreading nasty blogs around about you”. So rather than sitting by while peoples accounts were being compromised, I thought I would write a post, sharing a couple of simple tips for people to follow so they can keep themselves safe on the internet.
30 Internet Safety Tips
Whether it be a Virus, Malware or a Phishing attack – There are so many different types of malicious activities to be aware of when using the internet. Fortunately there are heaps of really easy things you can do to help keep yourself safe when browsing the internet.
- Keep your computers operating system up to date
- Keep your anti virus program up to date
- If you use applications tat interact with your web browser (like Adobe Reader, Flash or Java) – Keep them up to date
- Keep your internet browser up to date. Note: This is one of the easiest ways for an attacker to enter your computer
- Regularly scan your computer using Anti-Malware software (Malwarebytes) and Anti-Virus (Avast)
- Don’t open attachments from people you don’t know
- Don’t click on links from strangers, whether it be in your email on your Twitter/Facebook or on an untrusted website
- Use an anti-key logger application and make sure it is always running (I use Key Scrambler)
- Check links before you click on them. Do this by hovering your mouse over the top of the link and making sure it is going to where it says it’s going to. Here is an example of a dodgy link – www.Facebook.com (It says Facebook, but actually goes to Yahoo)
- Use two factor authentication wherever possible, whether it be using a token (like RSA SecurID Tokens) or by having an SMS sent to your mobile phone that contains a code which allows you to enter your account.
- Use unique passwords – Don’t use the same password on multiple sites
- Create difficult to guess passwords. Try to meet the following conditions when setting your passwords:
- Longer than 8 characters
- Use at least 1 upper-case letter
- Use at least 1 lower-case letter
- Use at least 1 number
- Use at least 1 symbol
- Example password – “Gu3ss_Th1s!”
- Do not write down or email your passwords to anyone (Including yourself)
- Research websites prior to providing payment details, not all online stores are legitimate. Note: An easy way to do this is to enter the shop URL into google and type “reviews” on the end of your search criteria. See what other users experiences have been like before using the site.
- Ensure websites that ask you to enter a password or credit card details have “https” in the URL bar and that the certificate is verified. To check this the URL should start with “https://” then simply click on the padlock in your browser window and look for something like this -
- Avoid “dodgy” websites that offer pirated media, software cracks and or pornography. Definitely don’t download any .Zip, .Rar or .Exe files from them, you will be asking for trouble
- Use OpenDNS as your DNS provider
- Only browse websites from within your sandbox (Avast or Sandboxie) or from a virtual machine
- Avoid accessing banking and email facilities when using an open Wi-Fi connection like those provided at airports and fast food chains
- When using wireless at home, be sure to use at least WPA2 encryption. It isn’t impossible to hack, but it takes a long time and is often not worth the hackers effort to break in (Tutorial – Setting up WPA2)
- Don’t send anything in an email that you don’t want other people to read. Most emails are sent in clear text which means it is easily viewed whilst in transit
- If something sounds too good to be true like – “I’m going to give you a million dollars, send me your bank details” it probably is, don’t believe it! No one is going to be nice enough to give you a million dollars. People still fall for these types of scams. Don’t be the next victim
- Use multiple email accounts for different purposes. E.G. Important things like banking has one email account, funny email forwards and social media accounts have another email account. Never send emails from one account to the other and use different passwords on both!
- Don’t use a debit card to pay for items on the internet. Always use a credit card or a service like PayPal. The reason for this is that credit card companies have to pay the bill for shoppers if they become an innocent victim of fraud. Whereas if you use a debit card then the fraudsters have your money and the banks are far slower at reimbursing you
- If you see a website telling you that you have a virus, don’t click on the link. 9 times out of 10 this is a trick to get you to install a fake anti virus program. See this example
- If you have children, be sure to install a tool like (Safe Eyes) to stop them from getting into trouble (More on this below)
- Don’t assume you are safe just because you use a Mac or Linux Operating System. Although the chances of you being exploited are statistically reduced, you can definitely still be infected and Apple is notoriously slow at patching their products
- Disable unused add-ons in your web browser by default. This includes high profile things like Java Applets, Java Scripts, Active X and Flash/Shockwave. Enable them only when you need them. If you are not sure how to do this simply google – “Disable Flash in Firefox”. Obviously you will have to insert the correct browser name and application into your search
- Regularly monitor your online banking accounts and credit card statements. If you see anything unusual contact your financial institution immediately
- Use your judgement. If a site looks dodgy, stay away from it
Applications to Help Protect your Computer
In the tips above I mention a number of different software packages that are commonly used to help protect you when surfing the web. Here I will talk in a little bit more detail about exactly what each of these programs do and why you really need to have them all installed.
Note: I personally use all of the following products on mine and my families computers and they all have FREE VERSIONS available – with the exception of Safe Eyes. As Safe Eyes is a product targeted at protecting children online, I will likely use it when my son is old enough to use a computer.
Malwarebytes is an Anti-Malware tool that will detect the following types of Malware on your computer.
They have both a free and a paid version. The paid version is best, but having the free version is still better than nothing.
Malwarebytes has a number of different types of scans which are available. Including quick scan, full scan and flash scan. I recommend running at least a quick scan prior to making any purchases online, just in case you have picked up something dodgy on your computer. I recommend doing a full scan at least once a month – Note: A full scan can take a while to complete, go watch a movie.
There are plenty of other Anti-Malware tools available which will do a similar job, but I have found this one to be the fastest and the most effective at finding malicious programs (including just using the free version).
KeyScrambler is a great tool to help secure your web browser from key loggers that might be on your computer. It works by encrypting your key strokes as you type them on your keyboard. The benefit of this is that if a key logger is on your computer, all it captures is random encrypted characters which is of no use to the hacker. See the screen capture below.
What’s a key logger?
A key logger is a piece of software that hides on your computer and captures every single key stroke that you type on your keyboard. This information is then sent back to the hacker so that they can access your email or bank details without you knowing. KeyScrambler won’t disable any key loggers on your computer, but it will hide your real username and passwords by encrypting them. This means the hacker only gets to see random characters instead of your account login details.
Avast is a Anti-Virus product which has both a free and a paid version. The free version will provide basic protection from viruses and spyware, while the paid version provides you with firewall functionality and a virtual web browsing environment / Sandbox. I use Avast on my own personal computers as well as on family members computers that I build for them. It is fast and has a good track record of finding and removing nasty viruses.
What is a virtual web browsing environment / Sandbox and why do I need one?
A sandbox wraps your internet browser up in a virtual environment. This virtual environment has the effect of isolating your web browser from the rest of your computer. The benefit of this is that if your web browser is hijacked, it will close down and should keep your computer safe from the malicious activity. You should really never be browsing the web without this as it significantly reduces your chance of infection regardless of the types of sites you visit.
Avast also has a generic Auto Sandbox feature which allows you to run any suspicious programs inside of the Avast sandbox. This means that if a program is malicious and you run it in the sandbox, then there will be no harm to your computer.
If you don’t feel like paying for the Avast Professional version to gain access to their virtual web browsing environment, then there is another application called Sandboxie that does essentially the same thing. I used to use Sandboxie all the time, however I have seen it have issues with Windows 7 where the browser stops responding (I have never had an issue with the Avast sandbox). Just remember to delete everything in your sandbox from time to time as it can collect all manner of malicious applications.
To clean out your Sandboxie sandbox simply right click on the icon in your task bar and select “Sandbox” … “Delete Contents“.
TDSSKiller is a free anti rootkit product produced by Kaspersky Labs. As this is a free tool I make sure I include this on any computers I build for my friends and family. It cleans up many different rootkits and is a super easy to use. Simply open it and click the “Start scan” button.
TDSSKiller will run through all the rootkits that it knows about and checks to see if your computer has been infected. This is the fastest of all the scanning programs I have mentioned in this post and it should only take about 1 minute to finish scanning.
ZoneAlarm is one of the better personal firewall products on the market. It is owned by Check Point who are leaders in corporate firewall technology. The primary reason I like ZoneAlarm is because it tells you whenever something new is trying to enter or exit your computers network.
This can be really telling if you see a ZoneAlarm message pop-up telling you something is trying to access the internet when you aren’t doing anything on your computer. 9 times out of 10 it is something innocuous, but every once in a while it is some kind of nasty malware sitting on your computer trying to phone home.
OpenDNS is a free Domain Name System (DNS) that translates a URL like [www.google.com] into an IP address like [126.96.36.199] and takes your web browser to the web server residing on that IP address. Normally your Internet Service Provider (ISP) will do this translation for you, but if you use OpenDNS you get a whole heap of added benefits like:
- It blocks phishing websites (Phishing websites are sites that try and steal information off your computer)
- OpenDNS can be configured to block adult content
- Faster loading times for loading the majority of common websites
To setup OpenDNS
- Open your network settings
- Change your DNS IP address to the following IP addresses
- 188.8.131.52 (resolver1.opendns.com)
- 184.108.40.206 (resolver2.opendns.com)
- That’s it!
If you want more granular control over your internet access – say you don’t want your kids looking at naughty websites, then you can’t really go past Safe Eyes.
Safe Eyes allows users to control a number of features like:
- Filtering Websites
- Instant Messaging
- Social Networking (Twitter / Facebook)
- Set Time limits
Safe Eyes can be configured to send you daily, weekly or monthly reports telling you exactly what your kids have been up to and how many naughty websites they have stumbled upon.
I really hope that someone finds this post to be useful, as it has taken quite a bit of time and effort to put it all together.
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