UPDATED: Oct 19, 2019
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The Internet allows people easy access to a wealth of information anytime, anywhere. Not only that, it also facilitates the connection and communication of people from different corners of the world in just a matter of seconds. However, all these perks come with a few catches.
With more people going online, the opportunities also ride for scammers and hackers to steal your information and even identity for their own gain. Thus, awareness of the best practices for online security has never been more relevant.
To get you started, here is a guide discussing topics from the history of malware, to the basics of online security, and the different ways you can protect yourself from various scams.
History of Computer Viruses, Malware and Spyware
First, let’s differentiate the three from each other.
A computer virus is any computer program file that has been configured to make its own code without the knowledge of the user. When left undetected, viruses proceed to slowly but steadily delete or infect various documents in the computer.
According to the International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research, the first computer virus called Brain was created in the 1980s by two Pakistani brothers one day in their computer store. While the 1990s and early 2000s were plagued by powerful viruses, people in the industry have developed various ways to counter and prevent them. Good anti-virus software can make computer viruses of today almost benign or mildly destructive at most.
Malware is a more general term for any kind of malicious software that’s made to stealthily gather or destroy information in a computer without the user’s knowledge. Computer viruses technically fall under this category.
The origins of malware and computer viruses share a source with the creation of Brain in the 1980s. Of course, Brain was followed by other malware. Some interesting ones are Omega, a virus that prevents an infected computer from booting on Friday the 13th; and Michelangelo, a virus that rewrites sections of a hard disk on the day of the artist’s birthday.
Meanwhile, spyware is a type of malware that is programmed to gather information about a person or an entire organization without the user’s consent. The term was first coined in 1995 in a Usenet post that criticized Microsoft’s business model. Spyware became a primary threat to operating systems around the mid-2000’s.
Online Security Basics and Tips
Here are some actionable tips you can apply to keep your browsing safe and secure at all times.
- Install good anti-virus software.
- Choose strong passwords, meaning ones with a good mix of letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Add a user login to your laptop or other device.
- Be wary of opening suspicious emails.
- Make sure that your firewalls are updates and properly configured.
- Do not download attachments from suspicious sources.
- Perform regular computer scans for malware.
If you have been an Internet user for years now, these tips might seem like common sense to you already. It is likely that you have learned them by trial and error through the years you spent online. However, new users such as kids and older adults do not always have the same experience to back them up.
Protect Against Viruses, Malware and Spyware
Most malware circulating the net today is designed to steal people’s banking information and login information for social media accounts. There are also those that qualify as spyware and aims to control a user’s webcam to record them without their knowledge.
With this in mind, it is important that you take extra precautions especially when you shopping online using a debit or credit card.
Here are a few tips to protect yourself against malicious software:
- Only use legitimate software (operating systems, editing software, etc.).
- Make sure all your essential software is updated.
- Immediately close websites you have been led to without your consent.
- Install an ad-blocker on your web browser.
- Install a good anti-virus and update it regularly.
- Backup your important documents just in case.
- AARP: 7 ways to block computer viruses
- Surveillance Self-defense: How do I protect myself against malware?
Password Security and Phishing
Phishing is a method of stealing banking, login, and other similar information for malicious reasons. It’s one of the most common internet scams and one that you should always be on guard on.
One way to protect yourself from phishing is by improving your account security by using stronger passwords. After all, if someone cannot log into your account, they will have a hard time using it to transfer money or send out emails.
Here are some tips to improve your password security:
- Use different passwords for different accounts.
- Refrain from using obvious passwords and security question answers.
- Use two-factor authentication.
- Watch for the secure sign on a website before logging in.
Online Fraud and Scams
There are plenty of other online scams you need to watch out for aside from phishing scams.
Here are some of the most common ones:
The Nigerian Prince: In this email scam, a ‘Nigerian Prince’ asks for financial and legal help to transfer his nonexistent fortune to a US account.
Publisher’s Clearing House Scam: Although the lottery is legit, there are plenty of scammers who use its name to trick people into giving them money by telling them they have won the lottery but need to pay fees to have the money released.
Catfishing: In this scheme, a person is tricked by someone who is posing with a false identity online. Catfishing is most prevalent on online dating sites where people create fake profiles and personas to lure people usually to send them money.
Staying Safe when Using Social Media
Be careful with the information you post on your social media accounts. They can be used to stalk you and increase your exposure to people with less-than-friendly intentions.
Remember to be careful about which people you add as friends and keep your profile (and its contents) as private as possible. For more specific tips, check out the links below.
- Internet Matters: Keeping your child safe when social networking
- City of WInston-Salem: Internet safety for adults
- New York Public Library: Internet safety tips for children and teens
Resources for Kids
Kids are like sponges when it comes to absorbing new knowledge. Since technology and the internet are inescapable these days, it is best to start teaching them about online security while they are young.
You will find helpful links below on how to keep your kids safe as they discover the many benefits of having access to the Internet.
- Kids’ Health: Internet safety
- Cyberwise: Online safety for kids
- Common Sense Media: Privacy and internet safety