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Article from thestar.com
Be your own
It's time to stop cyberpests from colonizing your computer and
harassing your address book.
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
"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
"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
http://www.mcafee.com. 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
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
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
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
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
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
firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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
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
Article from thestar.com