The next step is to prepare the Internet with appropriate software capable of defending your computer when on a network or the Internet. The following are common threats and risks when you connect to the Internet:
- Hacking/Cracking: People attempting to access your files / accounts (eg. Credit/bank account details).
- Virus: Many forms of this can infiltrate your computer, causing data deletion or abnormally slow speeds and constant hard disk access. They can also remove any other computer defences and steal account information, or be used in combination with other computers to render a major server useless by all communicating with it at the same time and overloading it.
- Spyware: Used to report to companies about customers browsing habits on the Internet. Basically invades privacy and is found in many free programs (eg. Gator, Comet Cursor, etc ), fortunately easily avoided with intelligent computer practices.
- Malware: Similar to spyware except that it is designed to destroy your data or generally cause havoc.
- Phishing: People being sucked into giving out confidential information with the false look of an email or web site. This is harder to spot as the fake page may have the same images and links as the real page, however the URL will seem unusual.
- SPAM: E-mails sent to random addresses usually for phishing purposes or just to mass advertise a product. Most of the Internet's traffic is SPAM.
Most spyware/malware and viri can be found to run each time at start-up, and a virus scan will pick those virus entries and an anti-spyware program will clear the start-up items of spyware. The thing about spyware and viri is that you can manually remove them from the start-up list, but they will probably come back on the start-up list after an event is triggered (eg. program opening) and therefore you should use a virus/spyware which will scan and remove the problems at their roots.
The obvious step to check for financial fraud is to regularly check credit card statements. But prevention is much more appropriate when dealing with computers. The first thing to do is to go to Windows Update and download Windows XP Service Pack 2 (Note: The service packs are cumulative, that is you can install SP2 without ever installing SP1 and gain its benefits). The service pack is over 250MB to get the administrator version, so if you still have a dial-up connection it might be an idea to look for it on a magazine's cover CD or place a free order with Microsoft who will mail a CD with SP2 on it. As soon as SP2 is on, download all the other recommended updates from Windows Update. Microsoft release Windows patches once a month so check regularly. Microsoft also currently has a SP3 out for Office 2002 / XP and SP1 for Office 2003.
Now we need to stop the hackers, viri and spyware/malware. There are two ways to stop these: safe surfing and appropriate software. Safe surfing will also help to stop the other types of risks so we will discuss that later. First out, there are great freeware programs that are equivalent in their protection as commercial programs. The only difference apart from their pricing is that the commercial programs may be required for administrators in a business due to licensing issues or available features.
A better browser alternative
Notice the blue 'e' symbol lying around the place...don't touch it! This is Microsoft's attempt at a browser but fails for its smorgasbord of security holes and errors at formatting web pages.
Instead use Mozilla Firefox 1.0.1, a browser based upon the Gecko engine; this browser can load pages much faster and more appropriately with greater security than Internet Explorer. Only use Internet Explorer for pages that won't load with Firefox, such as most online banking sites.
Firefox lays out the pages faster and better, with more speed and obedience to web standards.
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