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Safe Computing

Here are 10 things that you should (or should not) do with your computer.

10.    Don't open emails that look suspicious--unrecognized email address, strange looking subject, anything peculiar about them.

9.     Don't open attachments unless you know approximately what they are and where they came from.  From your friend's email account isn't good enough.  Viruses will get your friends' email account information from an address book on another computer and send out an email that looks like it came from your friend's email.  Even if the text indicates that your friend intentionally sent it (for instance she says something that you know the virus program could not have found out), you should be suspicious that a dangerous attachment could have been unknowingly forwarded by your friend.

8.    Turn off your email preview pane--it allows possibly malicious code to run as soon as you click on the email.

7.    Don't follow links in emails, especially emails from any kind of financial institution. Paypal will not email you to tell you that your account is about to be frozen.  Your bank will not email you to tell you that your checking account is about to be closed, or request that you update your personal information by email or logging in from a link.  These are most certainly what are called ":phishes".  That is, someone is phishing to try to hook some financial information from you to get to access to your accounts and your money, or at least your credit.  If you are concerned about an email that says something terrible is about to happen, call the institution or go directly to their web site by entering it in your browser.

6.    Emails asking to help some family find their lost daughter or wanting you to save Sesame Street are usually not legitimate.  Likewise, petitions that have the 100th person send the petition to such and such a web site, even if well intentioned do not work, as the web site will quickly be overwhelmed with emails . You can check out the legitimacy of such claims at www.snopes.com which is an urban legend site that tracks such things.

A legitimate petition will direct you to a web site to sign the petition.  A legitimate email forwarding campaign will at a minimum have a stopping mechanism, such as a statement at the beginning of the email that says something like "Do NOT Forward this email after July 1st, 2007".

Also, emails that offer you a great job, or easy money, or ask for your help moving money out of Liberia (or wherever) are trying to get  your money. Usually as you get more involved in these phishes they will ask you for a "nominal" upfront deposit or fee (which you will never get back), or to cash a check and send them only 90 percent of the money (and it will be a bad check). If it sounds to good too be true, it is almost certainly someone trying steal your hard earned money.

5.    Make the passwords that you use on the internet STRONG passwords.  This means that they should be at minimum 10 characters long and contain not only alphabetic characters, but both numbers and special characters and ideally should not use English words.  One approach is to have four or five passwords you use from weak to strong. Use the weak passwords for sites that do not contain any important personal or financial information, and increase the password strength as the information gets more potentially damaging.  This includes logging into your computer.  Think about the information on your computer.  If you don't have a password on your computer, and if someone broke into your home and stole your computer, they would have direct and immediate access to everything in your computer by simply plugging the computer back in and booting up.  If you have a login with a strong password, they would have to reinstall the operating system or take the hard disk out and put it into another computer to access that information. If you want to make your data even more secure, there are hard disk encryption programs that can be installed that require you to log in to access the data on the hard disk.

4.    Do Backup your computer.  Do keep an off site backup.  If your house burns down or your computer is stolen, then without backup everything on the computer is gone, probably forever. Click here for more on backups.

3.    Always set up and use automatic updates to keep your Windows computer (sorry we don't do MAC) and Windows software up to date.  Because Windows is far and away the most popular computing platform, there are always new attempts to find and exploit security weaknesses in the Windows operating system and software.  Open Internet Explorer and click on Tools/Windows Update.  In the web site be sure to turn on Automatic Updates.  You can set them to be completely automatic, and they will download and install (and sometimes reboot, so be sure to save all work, which you should do anyway) overnight.  Or you can set them to download and tell you they are ready to install.  And when they tell you, please install them within a few hours.  We consider that automatic download with install on request is the minimum setting that you should have for Automatic Updates.

2.    Always, Always have a firewall between your computer and the internet.  If you think you can't afford a firewall, click on the viruses/spyware button above for a very effective FREE firewall that you can install on your computer.

1.    Always, Always, Always run up-to-date Virus and Spyware software with up-to-date virus and spyware definition files.  If you think you can't afford this necessary software, then click on our Viruses and Spies button above (or click here) to learn about FREE virus and spyware software.

And for more information on safe computing, go to StaySafeOnLine at http://www.staysafeonline.info/practices/one.html


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