Domainmonster.com Domain Editorials
Personal security on the internet is an extremely serious concern. The consequences of failing to attend to the security of your personal details online can range from mere irritations, like spam and junk mail, to major problems such as identity theft. It should be a priority to protect your personal information when you are using the web.
Keeping your web browser up-to-date is a good start if you wish to improve your personal security online. Generally speaking, the newer the browser, the better the security; as identity thieves exploit loopholes, developers improve their browsers to patch the possible security leaks. You can download the most up-to-date versions of Firefox, Netscape, Safari and Internet Explorer for free.
If you use a shared computer, make sure that your user area, instant messaging client and email software are password-protected. Many browsers and programs have a "Remember Password" option, which you should not use if you know that your computer will be used or accessed by others. You can also set up features such as password prompts for when your computer comes out of standby.
Protect your passwords: don't write them down, and change them frequently. Don't use the same password for everything, as if someone gets hold of it they will have access to all your private details and services. Make sure that your passwords are not easy to guess: don't use family or pet names, or "password". One technique you could use to remember new passwords is to choose a poem or song that you know very well and use the next long word (at least six letters) of the song each time you need to change your password. Try not to use just letters; you could substitute some of the characters of a word for numbers, spaces or other characters, and use upper and lower case letters.
If you bank or shop online, make sure that when you log in to your account, you see the padlock in the bottom right corner of your browser or in the address bar, and that the web address begins "https" instead of "http" (this indicates that the page is secure). In Firefox, the address bar changes colour when you visit a secure page. Do not log in to bank or shopping sites over an unencrypted wireless connection. In general, avoid sending any private details over wireless connections which are not secure. If you have a wireless router at home, you can easily set up encryption.
Look out for "phishing" sites. These are web pages which look like the login pages of banks, credit card providers or shopping sites, but which are actually owned by a fraudster who is trying to farm personal details. They might have URLs like "www.mynatwestbank.com" or "www.ebaylogin.com". You may receive an email which directs you to one of these sites, asking you to log in to change your password or update your details. The best way to avoid sites like these is to always navigate to the login page of your bank or shopping site via the homepage of the site, and to check that the login page is secure. Banks and other sites which require a login will never ask you to reveal your password or send you emails to ask you to change your details or password. You should report any emails you suspect to be fraudulent to the bank or shopping site in question.
When shopping online, use your discretion to choose trustworthy sellers. Customer reviews can sometimes give you an indication of the reliability of a seller. Services like PayPal and Nochex can be very useful for making secure payments without giving your credit card details directly to any sellers online. Also, both of these services offer some protection for your payments against fraud.
When you are joining any service online, to avoid an excess of spam, keep an eye out for boxes you need to check or uncheck to say that you do not wish to receive newsletters or advertising from third parties. When you receive spam, delete it without opening it. Try not to post your personal email address on a website: use the internal messaging systems that exist on many community sites if you wish to share your address with others, or open an email account which you don't mind being spammed specifically for the purposes of displaying online. There are also encryption programs which can generate code to make email addresses harder for spammers' harvesting programs to find.
If you use any community sites such as MySpace or Faceparty, be sensible when it comes to revealing your real name and any personal details. Most of these sites (with the exception of Facebook) are crawled by search engines, so you should be careful of what you choose to reveal. In particular, you should not give away your home address or telephone number.
Keeping yourself safe online is mostly a matter of common sense, but it is well worth your while to be sensible and keep yourself up-to-date with the best ways of protecting yourself.
By Natalie Catchpole