Surfing the web without any kind of protection is akin to diving into bloody, great white shark-infested waters without a cage. Yes, the internet is a fantastic world of instant satisfaction that most of us can’t live without, but if you contract a nasty virus or get your identity stolen, you will have to do just that. Luckily, there are plenty of little steps that average users can take to make it harder for unwanted individuals to access all that precious information we keep stored on our computers.
First, take the time to correctly install, configure, and maintain decent antivirus and antispyware software (may we recommend award-winning PC Tools Spyware Doctor with AntiVirus?). Next, make sure you have a firewall, and that you are using it. For those of you who may not know, firewalls are configured (in hardware, software, or both) with specific criteria to block or prevent unauthorized access to a network. Most operating systems come with some form of firewall; turn it on and keep it up to date (Microsoft users: be sure to mark Patch Tuesday, the second Tuesday of each month, on your calendar).
Stay away from downloading or opening just anything and everything that comes your way. Be picky about software that you install on your PC; make sure you know what you’re getting. Downloading software at random can open the door to malware, including spyware and adware. The same goes for email. If you don’t recognize the email address, don’t open it. Stifle your curiosity and delete it. More than likely, IT IS SPAM. And definitely don’t click the link. Even if you get an email from someone you know that includes a shortened URL (such as bit.ly or tinyurl.com), it’s best to see the full link before committing to the click (there are external sites that can expand the URL for you to view).
Guard your personal information like you guard your wallet on the bus. Don’t use the same password for every account you have (and don’t use an easily predictable password, either). When shopping online, make sure the site into which you enter your card information begins with https://. Certain sites are known for harboring malware more than others, including porn sites, gambling sites, unfamiliar gaming sites, and any site that generally seems too good to be true. Stay away from these if you can help it, and your PC and personal identity will be much safer.