Be A Responsible Net Citizen

Safety and security is a big issue on the Internet these days. And what may seem like common sense to a lot of Web users may be new information for the less Web-savvy population. So to help those less-experienced Web users, we’ve put together a list of basic concerns that everyone should be aware of.

Don’t spread viruses: Everyone should know this, but the fact is viruses still keep spreading so someone must be at fault. If you don’t have virus protection on your home and work computer, you are asking for trouble – and you may be contributing to the spread of viruses. And just having an anti-virus program isn’t always enough – your virus definitions and anti-virus subscription must be kept up-to-date to protect your computer from the latest viruses. Viruses can lock you out of your files, change or delete your data, turn your computer into a spam machine, and do any number of harmful things to your computer and your data. Many of the spam messages sent throughout the Internet are sent by computers of which users don’t even know they are infected.

With the constant barrage of advertisements, easy downloads and e-mail spam, viruses are easily spread. It seems like new viruses are created every day so unless your anti-virus programs are kept up to date your computer can be a liability.

Protect yourself from spyware: Spyware is software that can track Web surfing habits and provide information about you and your habits to advertisers and other interested parties. Spyware is usually installed without the user’s knowledge and is a big concern not just for its privacy issues, but also for general Web security. Spyware or “hijackers” can be used by their creators and distributors to coordinate distributed denial of service attacks, allow back-doors into your computer and a host of other unwanted “features”.

Do yourself and your fellow net citizens a favor and protect yourself from these programs. The easiest way to protect yourself is to visit sites and download programs known to not install spyware. A good rule of thumb is: don’t install programs that you weren’t specifically looking for. If a program or advertisement says your computer will be better off with this new program, it actually may not be. Do some research on the program before you install it. A simple search engine entry of the name itself should yield enough results to tell you if it is a legitimate program or just disguised spyware.

Stop sending spam: Are you someone that forwards every joke or “interesting story” that gets e-mailed to you? If so, you’re one step below the professional spammers that everyone hates. Unless all of your recipients are asking you to please send them more, they probably just delete what you send and don’t bother reading it. You may think you’re sending them something they will like or want to see, but the reality is that anyone who’s been around the Net for a while has seen all of the chain mails and “cute” stories and really doesn’t want any more. You might want to just try having an e-mail conversation with your friends instead of spreading these spam e-mails.

Don’t get scammed: How many times has someone come up to you on the street and offered you a stake in millions of dollars if you’ll just invest a small portion of it? Probably not often – and if they did, you’d probably tell them to get lost. But thousands of people have fallen for similar scams online. The most common is what’s called the Nigerian 419 scams, which are “advance fee frauds” – a scam in which great riches are promised for a “small” up-front investment. These e-mails make it seem like the sender knows you, or knows of your reputation as a “good person,” but in actuality, they are just another form of e-mail spam. A good rule of thumb is: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A Web search on any key words of the communication will often turn up more information on validity of its claims.

Don’t believe everything you read: The daily deluge of information on the Web is full of satire, exaggerations and just flat-out lies – and a lot of people believe it all. There are many reputable sources for news and information and many people out to simply further their cause or spread rumors. Before you help in the propagation of misinformation, double-check items that seem to be “too good to be true.” One great source is Snopes.com, a site dedicated to explaining and debunking urban legends, chain letters, and the aforementioned scams.

Shop responsibly: Shopping on the Internet is easy, quick and for the most part very safe to do. But you need to make sure you are buying from a reputable online store. The big e-tailers like Amazon.com, Buy.com, Outpost.com and many more are usually secure and offer worry-free shopping.

Look for a privacy statement on the site. You don’t want them to get too much information about you and give that information away. Also look for warranty information and return policies. When checking out at an online shopping site look for the padlock icon in the lower right-hand portion of your Web browser to make sure it is a secure billing site.

A great way of finding good prices and reputable dealers is to do a product search at an online price comparison site like Shopping.com and then to verify the company’s rating at ResellerRatings.com. A low price and a good rating will lead to a more comfortable buying experience.

Know how to search: One of the beginner mistakes that tech support people often run across is users not knowing how to properly do a Web search or enter in a Web address. If you know the address of a Website, you enter it into the address bar at the top of your Web browser. But if you are unsure where to find the information you want, a search engine is what you need. There are many free search engines on the Web, with the most popular being Google and Yahoo! For these search engines to be truly effective, you need to know how to use the right keywords. For instance: if you are searching to find out a problem with a hard drive error, don’t just search for “hard drive error” – search for the exact error code or name. If you experienced the problem, chances are that a lot of other people have too and many of them may have posted information on how to fix it or what it means.

Become part of a community: If you are interested in something, no matter how weird or mundane it may seem to some people, it’s a safe bet that hundreds or thousands of other people around the world share that interest. And there are probably several Websites or community message boards devoted to the subject. Participating in a Web forum or joining a community made up of people with similar interests can help expand your knowledge and you just may be able to do the same for them. There are countless Web communities for almost any hobby, interest, ideology or concern you could think of.

Secure your wireless network: With wireless networking products being one of the hottest selling technology items right now, many people are just learning about networking and WiFi. If you are going wireless, make sure you know how to keep it secure from drive-by users and prying eyes. Allowing anonymous users access to your network can be damaging to your network, your finances and your online persona. Click here to read Digital Trends’ guide to securing a wireless network here for tips.

With the right basic knowledge and safe practices anyone can make good use of the Internet for amusement, education and community. If you have questions about our suggestions or want to suggest your own ideas, click here to discuss this article in our forums.

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