6. Learn what to do if something goes wrong.
(a) If a scammer takes advantage of you through an Internet auction, when you’re shopping online, or in any other way, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov. The FTC enters Internet, identity theft, and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
(b) If you get deceptive spam, including email phishing for your information, forward it to “spam at uce.gov” (replace “at” with the @ sign). Be sure to include the full Internet header of the email. In many email programs, the full “Internet header” is not automatically included in forwarded email messages, so you may need to take additional measures to include the full information needed to detect deceptive spam.
(c) If you believe you have mistakenly given your information to a fraudster, file a complaint at the FTC’s website and then visit their Identity Theft website to learn how to minimize your risk of damage from a potential theft of your identity.
7. Use anti-virus software, a firewall, and anti-spyware software to help keep your computer safe and secure. Don’t be put off by the word “firewall.” It’s not necessary to fully understand how it works; it’s enough to know what it does and why you need it. Firewalls help keep hackers from using your computer to send out your personal information without your permission. While anti-virus software scans incoming email and files, a firewall is like a guard, watching for outside attempts to access your system and blocking communications from and to sources you don’t permit. Some spammers search the Internet for unprotected computers they can control and use anonymously to send unwanted spam emails. They refer to these as “zombie computers”.
If you don’t have up-to-date anti-virus protection and a firewall, spammers may try to install software that lets them route email through your computer, often to thousands of recipients, so that it appears to have come from your account. If this happens, you may receive an overwhelming number of complaints from recipients, and your email account could be shut down by your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Some operating systems and hardware devices come with a built-in firewall that may be shipped in the “off” mode. Make sure you turn it on. For your firewall to be effective, it needs to be set up properly and updated regularly. Check your online “Help” feature for specific instructions.
8. Be sure to set up your operating system and Web browser software properly, and update them regularly. Hackers also take advantage of unsecured Web browsers (like Internet Explorer or Netscape) and operating system software (like Windows or Linux). Lessen your risk by changing the settings in your browser or operating system and increasing your online security. Check the “Tools” or “Options” menus for built-in security features. If you need help understanding your choices, use your “Help” function.
Your operating system also may offer free software patches that close holes in the system that hackers could exploit. In fact, some common operating systems can be set to automatically retrieve and install patches for you. If your system does not do this, bookmark the website for your system’s manufacturer so you can regularly visit and update your system with defenses against the latest attacks. Updating can be as simple as one click. Your email software may help you avoid viruses by giving you the ability to filter certain types of spam. It’s up to you to activate the filter. In addition, consider using operating systems that allow automatic updates.
9. Subscribe to a managed security services. As the best form of protection available today, you get much more than just software. You get professional grade technology coupled with having a team of security experts available to help with any security problem. This level of protection has never been available for homes and small businesses until now, and, because of the increase in online security threats, risks, and attacks, it is becoming the future of Internet security.
Although the Internet basically provides a positive and productive experience, cyber-attacks against our personal privacy and security are reaching epidemic proportions. These attacks are occurring in our own homes and businesses. Our own computers are being used are being used as zombies to attack other people, businesses, and even our nation itself. As an average Internet user, you may not be aware of these threats nor have any idea about the dramatically increasing risks you face when connected to the Internet.
On a campaign for internet safety awareness and protection, my mission is to bring critical awareness to individuals, families, and small business owners, and to provide access to the necessary tools and ongoing expertise to secure your computer and help you stay protected.
I invite you to join the many thousands of others who have tested their computers, discovered these threats are real, and taken the necessary steps to protect themselves.
Now that you have become aware of these issues, I encourage you to share this vital information with your families, friends and communities. Together, we can reach many millions of people and inform them about the threats to their privacy and security, and help them get the protection they desperately need.
Remember: When you say “No!” to hackers and spyware, everyone wins! When you don’t, we all lose!
© MMVII, Etienne A. Gibbs, MSW, Internet Safety Advocate and Educator
Etienne A. Gibbs, MSW