Protect Yourself Online – Internet Safety

You can protect your PC while you browse the internet by installing and using third-party internet browsers and a few useful plug-ins.  We recommend you use of the latest version of FireFox with the NoScript add-on combined with Sandboxie

NoScript disables all active/java scripting on the page allowing you to view pages more quickly due to embedded videos (flash, shockwave, QuickTime, etc) and advertisements being blocked. The user is given the authority to enable scripting from domains independently of one another. For example, a user may visit ZDnet.com and find that 12 different domains are actively running scripts on the page and the only content that is relevant are the two or three domains that pertain specifically to ZDnet.com. The user, then, enables key domains to run scripts and the desired content is displayed.  Most of the exploits offered through web-pages use active content. NoScript protects you from having all active content from a website blocked by default. NoScript is not available for Internet Explorer.

Sandboxie creates a sand-boxed environment for any executable chosen by the user. Most often this application is used to create an encapsulated shell for web browsing, downloading unsafe files, opening crack files for software piracy, opening untrusted video/audio files, opening untrusted office documents and PDFs, and maintaining a “clean cookie” profile on one’s home system.

A program running in the sandbox, like any program, to have read access to things it would normally be able to read on the windows operating system, BUT no permanent changes are made to the actual system. This is most useful for visiting hacker sites, security sites, or the sites of foreign nationals.

Sandboxie includes the option to clear out your sandboxes. Combine this feature with web-browsing and you can be sure that no one will ever see your cookies, history, or index.dat files that keep a track record of where you have been and when.

Sandboxie allows the user to create multiple sandboxes. Run two web-browsers out of two different sandboxes so that you can have two sets of cookies, or run email out of one sandbox and other office applications from out of another.

Create Secure Passwords

Do not use personal information in your passwords such as your name, address, phone number, etc. — these elements of information are too easy to guess.  Combine lower case and capital letters along with numbers and special characters in your passwords.  Avoid common phrases or words.  For the highest level of password protection, do not use any words that are in the dictionary.

Do not write down your passwords – instead memorize your passwords.  Do not allow Windows or your Internet Browser to store and save your passwords — this leaves you vulnerable to anyone that gets their hands on your computer.  IF you must save your passwords, make sure you use an encrypted password vault.  Lastly, try to change your passwords regularly, and don’t use the exact same username/password combination for every single online account.

Malware Protection

Current recommendations are using Comodo or Outpost security Suite for antivirus, spyware, firewall, and host based intrusion detection and prevention. The downside to using these products are the volume of alerts directed at the user for acknowledgement or negation as it pertains to processes and programs that are seeking to utilize system resources, such as, outbound network connection or utilizing internal system files.

From my personal use of these two softwares, Comodo’s user community integration seems to do a better job of automating its learning of what is good and what is potentially negative. The biggest benefit of these two products is keeping programs (known & unknowns) from talking out to the internet when you haven’t given them your blessing. These products offer you a high measure of protection. However, you may get infected while using these softwares via some user-initiated action, however, there is less of a chance that something will be able to phone-home without you knowing.

Protecting You from Yourself

Utilize Windows XP’s lesser known features.  Windows XP features two free add-ins that enable the operating system to be far less vulnerable to attacks and exploits even when a user initiates a not-so-smart action. One is called “Windows Steady State” and the other is called “Drop My Rights”.

  • Steady-State allows the computer owner to create a permanent, unchangeable snapshot of the operating system with installed applications. After this snapshot is created a user can infect the computer with a virus, delete operating system files, install games with annoying flash content, and upon reboot all of those changes will revert back to the configuration of the system when the snapshot was created.

    Steady-state is not inflexible. Users can be assigned folders that have been granted the “write” permission. For example, junior can have access to his own special folder to save his homework. However, he must understand that if he downloads or saves files to any other location, then he risks losing them when the system reboots.

  • For those who prefer to use the computer as an administrator, Drop My Rights  may be more suitable. Drop my rights allows the user to dumb-down the permissions granted to programs that would ordinarily be run under an administrative context, due to the administrator launching the application.

    For example, when you are logged into the computer as an administrator and launch your web browser, that web browser process has been granted administrative authority because you launched it. While launched as an administrator, if you click something that you aren’t supposed to and become infected through the web browser, now that piece of malware also has your administrator level of access to the computer.

    Drop my rights minimizes the risk associated with unwittingly compromising user initiated actions by limiting the access that programs have to the system. In short, although you are logged in as an administrator, programs can be set to run as a ‘user’ rather than a privileged user.

  • Vista and Windows 7 have a similar mechanism enabled by default via the User Access Controls service. However, the implementation of UAC is rather annoying and ruins the computing the experience.

    Side Note: Sandboxie has integrated the Drop My Rights feature.

>>Take the next step: Advanced Personal Computer and Home Network Security

Windows CleanUp! can delete files that leave traces of your Internet activity; those files include cookies, browser cache and history, and bookmarks and favorites.  Windows Cleanup can remove thousands of files, freeing up megabytes and even gigabytes of disk space and do it rapidly. It is easy to use and designed for beginners; however, there is an Options dialog that allows flexibility for those with more experience.
Steganos Locknote – This is an application and document in one: the mechanism to encrypt and decrypt a note is part of it. Secure, simple, independent. No installation required.  It appears as a simple text file and opens to look just like a file in notepad.  The only difference is that the contents are encrypted and secure.  And you can have as many of these different “Locknotes” on your computer at one time.  A great place to secure your username and password combinations since the file is encrypted, lightweight, and no delay in loading.

Article: Think Before You Click to Avoid Viruses and Scams – Read PC World article

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.

 

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