Back to Basics: Safer, Smarter Surfing 1

03 October 2008, by A. Cedilla

Part 1 of 2

Today it’s no longer enough to just trust that if you don’t visit porn sites or click on suspected SPAM, your firewalls and anti-virus software will be enough to keep out the hordes of viruses and unscrupulous hackers lying in wait on the Internet.

Too many computer users neglect to do the basic maintenance on their computer — leaving holes in their defenses and pathways for data to be stolen, sometimes without them even knowing anything ever happened.

There is a wide variety of protective software available, like ad-ware removers, anti- virus tools, key patrol agents, spy ware blasters and so on. And in the same way a condom is no protection to anyone if you let it deteriorate in your wallet; these tools are effective only if you use them.

Think of yourself as a pilot conducting your pre-flight inspection. The pilot is responsible for the following:

  • Thoroughly inspecting his airplane before any passengers board.
  • Ensuring that all safety precautions have been taken to guarantee that all mechanical and electronic devices are working and that the mechanical inspections are up to date.
  • Verifying that everything is in good operating condition, because once the plane leaves the runway, it’s too late to start wondering if you’ve left anything off your checklist.

Your computer is your responsibility, as is your data protection. Just like a pilot needs to go through a checklist, you also should make yourself a checklist of things to verify before you surf the Internet. Once connected, it is too late to realize that your system is not up to the challenge. If your system is not checked, if you are vulnerable to the attacks, you could pay a severe price. I hope your data is backed up.

You need to get good software for this job. It’s OK to try free software for evaluation purposes but once you have found the software that suits your needs, get it and put it to work.

One of the biggest problems for average computer owners resides in the fact that they simply refuse to take the time to read about their new software. They buy it, install it and never think about it again.

You need to take the time to educate yourself on the functioning of any tool you buy. New computer viruses come up everyday; they mutate like the real deal. You have to update your anti-virus definitions to meet the onslaught.

Go to a trusted site such as CNET and read the comments from other users about the software you’re considering. Ask for recommendations. Take the time to do good research and remember you are putting all your data at risk when you connect to the Internet, so act accordingly.

Once you are confident that the software you are purchasing is of the highest quality, then take your time and read all the documentation provided. Once you have done this, and only then, install the software. Make sure to include the updates to your maintenance list.

If you have not done so yet, locate and read all the recommended procedures for the software that protects your computer.

Create a text file and save it on your desktop. You will want this file to contain your checklist of things to do everyday before you start surfing the Internet.

Here is a possible list of the things that should be done before you start surfing:

1) Regularly run your antivirus software. Check regularly for updates. These two steps go hand in hand.

If at any time your antivirus software locates a virus, you need to update your antivirus definitions, disconnect from the Internet and do a full scan of your computer with the updated definition. Always make sure your antivirus software is actively protecting your computer.
2) Clean your computer cache and your temporary files. You can pick up software for this at CNET:
3) Clean your history
4) Update your ad-ware remover. Run your ad-ware remover. Again you can try free ad-ware removers from CNET but please buy the full package when you find one that you know will protect you. You truly need all the functions of the software, not just a portion of the functions which is usually the case with Trial Version software.
5) Update your firewall and check the settings. Some clever hackers can change the settings of your computer, therefore putting you at risk.
6) Check for mail protection agents and make sure that they are active.
7) Run a scan disk.
8 ) Update your browser

That’s just a sample list. Make one that applies to your computer and to the software installed on it. Keep your list updated, data and software backed up and make sure that you keep up with what you put on your list. Making a list and not following it is useless.

In the next installment I’ll present a few tips for safer wi-fi surfing.

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