GetNetWise is a user empowerment campaign and Web site designed to give Internet users a user-friendly, easy-to-find, online resource that can be found on the most popular entry points to the Internet, as well as on many of the most popular Web sites. GetNetWise 2.0 offers tips, tutorials and other interactive tools to show users that creating a safe, secure and positive online environment is as easy as "one click" of a mouse.

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Be your own Net minder

It's time to stop cyberpests from colonizing your computer and harassing your address book.

These days, almost everyone hangs out in cyberspace one way or another. But the vast and growing online world is not always a safe place. And just as you protect yourself from real-world dangers, you need to take precautions when navigating the virtual world.

"The bottom line is, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem," says Neil Schwartzman, chair of CAUCE Canada: The Canadian Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial E-mail. "Too many people don't realize how much harm they leave themselves and others open to if they do not take basic security steps."

The trick is to practise good computer hygiene and we don't mean disinfecting your keyboard. There are a number of steps to protect privacy and minimize the risk of viruses, spyware, spam and the many new hazards that are cropping up online. These include worms, which are self-replicating viruses that sneak into your computer; some can shut down your machine. And some viruses turn your computer into a "Zombie," programming it to specifically attack a company's computer network or Web sites.

"It is so hard to know what to do to stay on top of things," says Gail Allan, a 35-year-old Toronto mother of two.

After she joined an e-mail book discussion club, she started getting lots of junk e-mail. "You wonder, what could be tagging along with that message?" she says.

"You wish you did not have to worry, but now it seems to be a fact of life you have to protect yourself."

Allan has installed up-to-date anti-virus software and is checking ways to stop unwanted e-mail.

Her family plans to move a second computer to the family room exclusively for her children. She is investigating "net nanny" programs that limit sites children can visit.

Many people do not realize how simple actions can increase security. The first rule is to use unique passwords, ones that are not easy to guess, and never share them.

Second, no one should navigate the Net without having up-to-date virus software on his computer, say experts like Schwartzman and Megan Kinnaird, of the Internet Education Foundation.

"I think it is getting to the point of extreme frustration," Kinnaird says of online hazards. "There is no silver bullet but consumer education and good computer hygiene are the best things we can do."

Third, know the enemy. Spammers and con artists can't take advantage of you if you know their ways and how to foil them.

The Star has put together the following "to do" list to help you have a healthy relationship to cyberspace.

Start with a security program. They cost anywhere from $50 to $200 (U.S.), depending on how many security features you order. Before you buy one, you need to know your system specifications, including what operating system you use for example, Windows XP or Windows 2000.

You'll need to know your computer processing speed and the amount of RAM (or short-term processing memory). To find this out for Microsoft Windows 2000, for example, click on the start button in the bottom left hand corner of the screen, then select control panel. Once that opens to a series of icons click on the one for "system." That will give answers to the questions above.

You also need to know how you connect online is it a dial-up or high-speed modem or a LAN connection ( whereby you are always connected to the Internet by cable). Again, go to the start menu, select settings and click on network or dial-up connections. The icons will tell you what type of connection you have.

Once you know these details, you can buy an anti-virus program or more general security package. If you are buying online, check out or Each site has a section that asks you questions about your Internet behaviour: Do you just use e-mail? Buy things online? Download movies? When you've answered the questions, it recommends products that suit your needs.

Once installed, the program will automatically protect your system every time you go online and update itself to protect you from any new virus threats. You'll need to buy a new anti-virus program every year or pay to renew your old one.

Every week or so, do a general scan using all your security features. You must also keep your software, especially your operating system, up to date.

When you buy a computer, you are asked to go online and register with the operating system's manufacturer. You will automatically be sent free updates and security patches to protect against any new tricks hackers may have invented.

You should also have a personal firewall. This is a program that electronically blocks intruders from accessing your computer from the outside when you are online. It is like an additional safety barrier between your computer and the Internet.

Firewalls are included in many security packages. Or you can check to see if your Internet service provider includes them automatically. Call the technical support staff and ask if you need more firewall protection.

Also, turn off your modem or computer when you're not online. Disconnecting from the Internet is the safest way to prevent intrusions.

Many security packages include e-mail filters to block spam and detect spyware and other intruder programs. Spyware is a concern when you're online. These programs sneak into your computer and record keystrokes and other commands and activities, thereby gaining access to passwords and personal information. Other "intruder" programs may download themselves when you visit a Web site and track your online activities. Some will flood you with unwanted ads.

As for spam, Schwartzman says it is becoming a very serous threat, and studies show it makes up half the world's e-mail traffic. If you do not have up-to-date protection, he says, you can be 100 per cent certain your computer is infected with something and you are likely spreading viruses and other hazards.

Many viruses are spread by e-mail. Once in your computer, they often send copies of themselves to everyone listed in your address book.

They can also send spam to people in your address book forged so it looks as if it originated from your e-mail address. Or your originating address could be used to send a message to a non-existent address, which will come back as failed mail. Never open messages marked "failed mail" unless you are certain you actually did send them.

To protect yourself:

Install a spam filter program so the stuff never even arrives.

Never open an e-mail attachment unless you know exactly who is sending it and why.

Use the blind copy function rather than multiple addresses if you are sending an e-mail to many people.

Delete mail unopened if you don't know the sender. E-mail can arrive with viruses that launch when opened. And that can include the preview pane in Outlook Express, which automatically opens messages as they arrive. (To turn off the preview pane in Outlook Express, go to the view menu and choose layout and then remove the checkmark beside the "preview pane" function.)

Never respond to spam. If you do, the spammer knows he or she has a "hit" a live human with a real e-mail address. If you get spam about something you are interested in, don't respond to it. Instead, go to the firm's official Web site and use the "contact us" link.

When you register for a legitimate e-mail discussion group or subscribe to a legitimate e-mail publication, you will be sent a separate e-mail from the source to confirm you are who you say you are. This will also give you instructions on how to unsubscribe, should you wish to.

Spammers may send e-mails with links to sites that say they will remove you from spam lists, when really they are just collecting addresses. Or a spam message may ask you to click on part of the message that says "remove" or "unsubscribe." Again, this just confirms that they have a live address and gets you on more spam lists.

A combination of numbers and letters in your e-mail address rather than makes it harder for spammers to find you. Many use programs that hunt for e-mail addresses by simply working their way through common names and letters alphabetically, searching for active addresses.

And never share files whether it is a program, music file, or picture from a source you do not trust. If you do share files, have an anti-virus program in place.

"Phishing" is a scam whereby online crooks send fake e-mails that seem to be from legitimate companies and try to get you to send them personal information.

For example, if you get an e-mail purportedly from your Internet service provider that asks you to reply with information, delete the message and go to the company's Web site to check if this is a legitimate request.

Better still, call the source directly.

Be very suspicious of any company that does not have a bona fide real world address and phone number you can verify and contact. Schwartzman says organized crime has been linked to these types of frauds and many people have lost money.

He and Kinneard also say it is important to read the privacy policies before you submit any personal information online. Find out exactly who is collecting the information and why and what is being collected. Then decide if you think it is necessary.

You should be told how long the information is kept and you should be able to view what is collected about you and correct it if it is wrong. Have a contact address and phone number to be able to complain should you need to.

For more detailed tips on computer hygiene, go to

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