Browse With Caution

Protect yourself, it's easy!

By on July 14th, 2007 18:01 GMT
More and more people come to the conclusion that the Web is a hostile environment filled with traps and dangers just waiting for a victim. Up to a certain extent, this is perfectly true. Especially if you are a fan of warez websites, search for pirated software, browse the Internet for the latest pornography and surf dubious websites presenting all sorts of hacks.

But more naïve computer users have no idea of the dangers lurking around when employing an unprotected computer. You could even go bankrupt if you haven't sufficient bolts to lock the access to your computer. A guy I knew once told me that he has an infallible method of not getting hacked, 100% guaranteed. His answer was to stay offline whenever he had no use of the Internet. Yeah, a hell of a comfort that is.

However, here are some ways to keep my privacy, methods that I have learned since the first time I used the computer. These "strategies" worked in my case with the utmost efficiency, so far.

Choose your web browser

For many people, a web browser is merely a way to access the WWW and nothing more. Of course, choosing between this and that web browser has its comfort during the browsing session and employing a web surfing tool that does not offer tabbed browsing is unconceivable nowadays, and will become one with no mouse gestures support.

But in the case of web browsers there is more than meets the eye, as background activity can do a lot of damage. Internet Explorer used to be the most inefficient tool in this sense and up to version 7 it would download all sorts of web cooties without your knowledge. With the latest version, things have taken a positive turn for IE and it is now the safest browser on the market. And if you combine it with Windows Vista's UAC, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to phishing and background activity, as nasties won't be able to write on the system drive.

If you are not an IE7 lover, you can use Mozilla Firefox, a very good tool that comes with lots of extensions among which one is especially important: NoScript, an extension that allows JavaScript and Java execution only for trusted domains of your choice. A piece of advice though: do not use both Firefox and IE7 on Vista as the combination brews a vulnerability able to compromise the security of your computer.

Email protection

Web mail is also one thing to take care of. With the increasing space allotted to save stuff on our emails, it is definitely an appealing spot for hackers. The more information available, the more prone to attacks the account is. Strong passwords are an efficient way to stress the protection for the web mail account. A password like your birthday, name, favorite basketball team etc. are easily cracked. Password cracking tools are equipped with dictionaries containing myriads of character combinations and with a little patience, your countersign will be revealed. My suggestion in this case is to use a combination of letters (both upper and lowercase), symbols and special characters. Care should be taken with the special characters, as they should be easy to remember and to type in.

Yahoo! Mail sports a very useful feature that helps protect you from phishing in the form of the sign-in seal. This can be either a phrase or even an image uploaded from your computer and it is accompanied by a user-defined color. If you notice a change in these refrain from signing in to your account as there are good chances to become the victim of a web mail fraud.

"Don't talk to strangers!" - that's what my parents always told me when I was little. The rule applies when it comes to emails, too. Try to desist the curiosity of finding out what an unknown link - received from someone you don't know and with the most appealing ID - is leading you to. With all the spam these days, you never know the trap behind. It could lead to a phishing site or to one crawling with spyware just waiting to pinch you.

Regarding phishing, take a good look at the link displayed in the address bar, especially when you are dealing with PayPal or E-Bay transactions. Statistics show that most of the phishing attempts are predominantly directed towards these online services. But taking a good stare at the address link is recommended for every currency transaction as well, because e-banking websites are also targeted.

Play your money safe

I always use a single credit card when buying stuff online. Never use debit cards, unless you are asking for major damage. Using a single credit card has the advantage that you can load it with enough limit for online transactions and reduce the aftermath. Of course credit cards are ensured, but any fraud is restricted to one card only and it is easier to monitor unusual charges on one card.

Bolting wireless connection

If you are using wireless connection, chances are it is not 100% safe. The protection enforced in a wireless zone is generally provided by the capabilities of the wireless router. Think of your computer as the room you live in and the router as the access door to the room. Making no effort for protecting your computer is equivalent to no MAC address filtering, broadcasting the default SSID, no encryption, and a fully functional DHCP.

With MAC filtering turned on you can limit the network access only to the systems you know. However, this security measure alone will not stop intruders from spoofing the MAC addresses in your network and clone them for their own devices. But, in combination with other precautions, it will make a tougher network to break.

Broadcasting the SSID (Service Set Identifier) or the network's address is similar to shouting your lungs out that your network can be taken over. With the service turned on the "clients" of the network can locate the WLAN without having to know what it is called. This is practically an open invitation to stop shouting your SSID.

DHCP is definitely not a good idea when in a wireless environment. This service automatically allots dynamic IP addresses to the devices connected to the network. With DHCP on, practically anyone can connect to your network as it will be assigned a dynamic IP.

But la pièce de résistance is given by the encryption used. Scrambling the data on your wireless network makes possible to connect to the network only the computers that have the encryption key. Depending on your router, you can benefit from either WEP (Wired Equivalent Protection) - 64-bit and 128-bit and WPA (Wi-Fi Pprotected Access).

In what concerns WEP, many experts say that it is better than nothing, so if you have to choose between WPA and WEP, don't spend another minute thinking about it and go with the latter. However, WPA encryption does not come without pitfalls. It is great for connecting computers, but not all the other devices support it. But, if you want security, then WPA2 is the pick to make as it is the newest type of wireless encryption on the market and the most secure.

In case of WEP encryption, be sure to change the key at least once a month. This way if your key is cracked you can protect the network by changing it. I would recommend the same action in case of WPA for maximum protection.

For those in need of fast WLAN keys, I found a couple of automatic generators for you. Try here for a simpler WPA or WEP key (both HEX and ASCII) and here for a more complex one and for more options.

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