Basic Internet Security

Set up a Firewall and Router

If you connect to the internet via a high speed connection (i.e. DSL or cable modem), you should protect your computer from intruders and hackers.  Your high speed internet connection makes your computer vulnerable via certain ports that are open to even the most novice cyber snoop.  Installing a hardware router is the best, most secure option in computer internet security.  A second, less robust alternative, is installing a software firewall.  A software firewall acts as a guard standing between your PC and the Internet checking information that flows from the internet to your PC.  Firewalls will block suspicious data or data from nefarious websites that are attempting unauthorized access to your PC.  ZoneAlarm is a great free software firewall that you can install and configure to protect your computer.  Another feature-rich free firewall is Comodo.  If you want a more feature-laden program, we suggest buying Norton Personal Firewall .
Ever since Windows XP SP2 was released, Microsoft bundles its free software firewall with their operating system.  In later versions of Windows, the firewall is part of Windows Defender.  In a perfect world, the firewall would never allow anyone suspicious in, but the truth is that a firewall is not ineffable. However, it makes it a lot harder for hackers to get in, and if you are just running a personal computer, this should be enough security for you.

If you have a wireless internet connection in your home, you should check out our section on how to secure your wireless network for detailed instructions and advice on data encryption and wireless router security.

More info on Firewalls & Routers .  Read PC World article on Firewalls .

“A typical unprotected PC will come under attack
within 20 minutes of being connected to the Internet.”

Install a Pop-Up Blocker

Pop-up ads are those annoying advertisements and messages that pop-up on the screen of your internet browser whenever you’re online. There are three major causes of pop-up ads:

  1. Web sites that will display additional advertisements each time you request to view a specific page online.
  2. Messenger Service advertisements that surreptitiously sneak in through the Windows Alerter service with malicious intent (this loop-hole was originally designed to allow network administrators to contact their users within a corporate network – but is an exploited flaw today).
  3. “Free” software available online that you download and install, not realizing that those “free” programs are attempting to exploit your online security settings in order to earn ancillary revenue by displaying these irritating pop-up ads on you internet browser screen.

Dealing with the first two types of pop-up ads is pretty easy. You can download and install a free pop-up blocker like the Google Toolbar to block those ads.  Download Windows XP SP2 and you get Microsoft’s free pop-up blocker (download ).  Microsoft Windows Vista and later (Windows 7) comes built in with a pop-up blocker and the latest version of Internet Explorer comes installed with security features such as anti-phishing options.


Installing the Google toolbar

The Google toolbar is a free plug-in for your internet browser (available for Google Chrome, Firefox, and Internet Explorer) that makes it easy to search the Web. As an added security bonus, it can automatically block most pop-up ads that come through your Web browser. To install the Google toolbar:

  1. Use your Web browser (or this link) to go to
  2. Click on Download Google Toolbar.
  3. When the File Download dialog box opens, click on the Open button.
  4. Follow the instructions on your screen.

Internet Browser Security

It is well known that Internet Explorer (IE) has had many security loop holes over the years, allowing many harmful viruses and malware to invade millions of computers worldwide.  Usually, Microsoft will eventually distribute a security patch to solve some of these issues.  Internet Explorer (IE) version 7 includes new anti-phishing features that help protect you.  There is another option.  Firefox is a freeware browser that includes many more security features that IE does not.  Additionally, the web browsing experience is enhanced and personalized with many plug-ins and add-ons. 

Downloading Tips

If you use Peer to Peer file sharing software such as KaZaA, you are probably experiencing a ton of pop ups and other interruptions to your computer – as stated in #1 above, you must eradicate your spyware.  However, continuing to use KaZaA will probably result in additional spyware being installed – that is because KaZaA installed such harmful software in the background.  There is a great utility program that you can install will fix such problems.  KaZaA Lite is a great plug-in — it will overwrite your original KaZaA software and prevent spyware and pop ups from occurring.  This will make your searches quicker and your computer run cleanly and efficiently.  Be very careful when installing or downloading software – only install it if you need it and intend to use it.  Viruses are becoming more and more prevalent nowadays. Most P2P services today are riddled with malicious code and infected files – your best bet is to avoid these networks at all costs.

How fast is your internet connection? Test your internet connection speed . Symantec's Norton Internet Security 2007

Browse the Internet Safely

Are you concerned about your online privacy?  Check out our new section on how to best Protect your Privacy Online – with tips and advice on browsing, protecting and encrypting information on your computer.  

Downloading files from the Internet can feel like playing a game of chance. You never know when you’re going to encounter a file that damages your system. While the possibility of that happening is relatively slim, getting to know some of the security features in Internet Explorer and keeping your PC protected will help you make informed decisions and avoid putting your computer at risk.  Norton AntiVirus – install the latest version of Norton Internet Security and protect your PC –Click Here .

Any file you download from the Web—such as, a program, a picture, a game, or a music file or movie, may in fact be a file infected with a virus.

Check out our tips below on how to safely browse the internet and use email:

  • Do not open attachments sent by people you don’t know – in fact, avoid opening emails sent by strangers or with suspect subject lines. Email is one of the most effective ways for viruses to infect you. If you do not know the sender, then just don’t open the email – instead, delete it.
  • Avoid opening an attachment that is a .exe, .pif, .com, or .bat file unless you trust the sender and it is necessary to open the file (i.e. family photos, work-related documents, etc.). Viruses and malware typically are hidden as these types of files!
  • Avoid the “bad neighborhoods” of the internet – such as sites promoting illegal activity  (i.e. hacking/warez/pirate websites); these sites are havens for malware.
  • Don’t click the links inside pop-up windows; excessive pop-up windows may be a sign of a browser hijack.
  • Don’t click on links in suspicious, unsolicited, or spam emails.  Be wary of and avoid unreasonable claims such as free offers for anti-spyware software – most of these “free” programs in fact will infect you with spyware.
  • Download free software only from trusted and secure websites.  Stick with well-known, established sites that you know of. Be cautious about downloading anything (especially “free” software) from unknown websites – often free software comes loaded with hidden malicious code or spyware.

Internet Explorer Security Settings

Make sure the security settings on Internet Explorer (the most popular internet browser) are set high enough to give you the right amount of protection.  Attacks can come right through an internet browser when a user unsuspectingly visits a Web page that has malicious code hidden within the page intended to harm your computer, take control of your PC, or steal your private personal information.  Check out an excellent tutorial on how to make internet explorer safer .

Nefarious persons are more commonly using attacks that involve phishing where the phisher hopes to bait and lure a victim in by asking them to log in to a fraudulent website that looks exactly like a trusted website. There are ways to spot a phishing site or email that all internet users should be aware of. Phishing is a method of obtaining information from internet users by which scammers disguise themselves as websites thought to be trusted. Sometimes the scammer will send an email claiming to be from your bank or sites like Ebay and Paypal. The scammer will link to a website that appears entirely legitimate. The website will ask for the information you typically supply to the trusted websites – user name and password. Find out more about how to prevent phishing attacks .

You can access the security settings on the Internet Explorer browser by clicking on “Tools” on the menu bar, then select Internet Options from the drop-down menu. Then, click on the Security tab.  Internet Explorer divides websites into zones categorized as Internet, Local Intranet, Trusted Site, or Restricted Site zones. You can adjust the settings specifically for each of these security zones, or select the default security settings by selecting a pre-configured level.  Check out our suggestions on how to protect your PC privacy .  For more advanced tips on how to maintain security online, check out our detailed article: Protect yourself Online .

>>Continue to our next step: Update your PC’s Operating System

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