(Updated February, 2017) Some days, logging onto the Internet feels like walking along the backstreets of Amsterdam, lost, slightly drunk, wearing a gold watch, and an iPhone 6+ on a belt clip full of cash. In other words, it can be a dangerous place. One can easily pick apart this metaphor by suggesting that all of those pitfalls amount to poor judgement on the individual’s part. I agree that eliminating those variables will make your trip to Amsterdam much safer. The same is true for the Internet.
Here are five things you can do to make your next trip on the information superhighway a lot safer:
Keep Your Browser Updated
Even Safari on the Mac can be vulnerable to some attacks, especially if you use an older OS version. Chrome is constantly being updated in the background. Microsoft offers updates to some part of its system every week. These updates have almost nothing to do with new features, and everything to do with squashing security vulnerabilities. The bad guys are always updating. So are the good guys. There are no good reasons to run an unupdated browser.
Use Stronger Passwords
In the corporate world, there is an emphasis on changing your password frequently. That never made sense to me. Changing a good password only makes sense if the password has been compromised. The more sensible policy is to use a strong password in the first place.
The reason people don’t use strong passwords is that they can’t remember them. Trend Micro promotes password manager software for its ability to manage “…all your website login IDs (user names and passwords) in one secure location, so you only need to remember one password.” This is table stakes for all such software. Additional features can be found in various packages.
Don’t Use Flash, and Turn off Java
99% of everything that goes wrong on a PC is related to Flash and Java. That may be a little hyperbolic, but only a little. Steve Jobs’ war on Flash turned out to be good for all mobile platforms. Desktop Flash is still in use for a variety of reasons, none of which have anything to do with a good user experience.
Java is too complicated to explain in a paragraph. But there are very good reasons why there are so many tech sites with tutorials on how to disable it. Unfortunately, some things you do for work or education still require these protocols. Learn to turn them on only for those occasions. And turn them off when not needed. They are the vector for all manner of hacks and vulnerabilities.
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Don’t Use Free Download Sites
There are NO good free software download sites, not CNet, not anyone! They only exist to serve you bundleware. Toolbars are a given. But you will often end up with software on your system that will sit there working quietly in the background, doing all kinds of damage of which you were not aware. Once you discover it, there will be an even nastier surprise: You can’t easily remove it. Stop taking free candy from strangers, or close acquaintances for that matter.
Stay Away from Public Wifi
Little did you know, that public wifi you logged onto in the park was being operated by some guy in a van. By the time you send a tweet, your bank account has already been compromised. Use your own mobile hotspot from your phone whenever possible. If you do decide to use public wifi, don’t do anything of a sensitive nature. Save your banking for later.
The sad truth is that you can never be completely safe online. But you can be a lot safer. The cost of online freedom is eternal vigilance.