How do you use the Internet?
The internet is a true achievement. It, like the modern world, started off as nothing but an idea, conjured up from the curiosity and scheming of dreamers, and slowly mapped out by explorers. Though the internet is completely superficial, meaning you can’t “go to” the internet like you can go to Paris or Mexico, you can spend your whole life immersed in it’s realms. I find it’s relative newness and it’s many mysterious corners to be something like the landscape of the western frontier in cowboy times. An open and free place, enabling many to explore at their own discretion, occasionally proving to be more dangerous than the civilized world. But, then again, most of us just use the internet to buy stuff. Where’s the danger in that?
In the past few decades, we’ve all seen the internet evolve into a virtual marketplace which offers a variety of commodities for purchase. The scope of this service can be demonstrated through example- Everything in my life that can be classified as an expense- my rent, my electric bill, my internet bill, new clothes, groceries, books, music and movies, can all be purchased through secure websites. Some of these companies don’t even exist outside of the spectrum of the world wide web. Amazon, for instance, sells everything imaginable and is one of the most profitable corporations in the world, yet hardly exists in a traditional brick-and-mortar storefront sense.
So, is it surprising that cybercrime has jumped to the top of the list of things most people worry about? I know that the internet has a tendency to remain mysterious to most normal folks, as it’s functionality is very technical and expansive. For years, my understanding never got much further than knowing that if someone else figures out my email address and what [*******] means, I could have my identity stolen. I don’t necessarily dread having to enter in my personal information to a sizable portion of websites i visit, but sometimes I wonder just how easy it is for someone that’s more knowledgeable than I am to access that information.
Some Techniques to Keep your Identity Safe
Starting with the more straightforward and arguably obvious methods, let’s talk about some sure-fire ways to outwit hackers.
Always make sure to check the credibility of the website that you plan on making a purchase from. Websites that are safe to enter information into are recognized as ‘secure,’ which is indicated by a lock symbol or unbroken key at the top of your browser page, to the left of the search bar. If you want to know more about the site that is prompting you to disclose personal information, enter them into a search engine. Nowadays, just about every website that is used for purchasing goods will have a trail of reviews, making it’s reputation more transparent. If a website seems to lack in any kind of credibility, it’s probably a sign to steer clear of it.
Use anti-virus software. I’ve used Norton for years and had generally good results. Occasionally purging your hard drive of cling-on software can also add life to your computer.
Watch out for diversions! One of the sneakier tactics a malicious website may employ is to try and trick you into clicking on a link that will redirect you to a ‘false’ payment page that is set up to harvest your information. A more primitive example of this tactic is this:
Nowadays, it’s safe to assume most of us already know what happens when you follow this popup’s instructions- it redirects you to a confusing website that prompts you to enter your personal information or your credit card information. Since we are familiar with this old trick, it may seem like we’ve all won the battle of wits, but don’t be fooled! There are more sophisticated kinds of malware out there that can take many forms. Some may try to fool you into thinking that the functionality of your computer will be disrupted if you don’t click on their link.
A common rule for avoiding malicious websites is to watch for any unexpected changes. Sometimes, a mouse click will spawn a popup window or redirect me to a new webpage or website. Other times, I might get a suspicious notice that I need to update my computer or download and install a file in order to continue. When this happens, I deem the website that I’m using untrustworthy and take my business elsewhere. (I should point out that when my intent is to install something, like new software or an update to old software, I’m anticipating a popup window or a notice, so this rule doesn’t necessarily apply to all popup windows, only ones that appear unexpectedly)
Keep passwords updated, private and distinctive. Treat a password like you would treat your house key- put it somewhere that’s personally accessible, but hidden and hard to detect. Don’t use a password that’s easy to guess. Something totally random like ‘TwRG49820’ or ‘boots3crashPOOK’ may be a pain to remember at first, but it’s a lot better than using something that’s easy to guess and personal like your cat’s name or “seahawksLVR1”. Pick something that feels nice to type out. By taking appropriate measures in remembering your passwords, and not writing them down on pieces of paper and leaving them in your desk next to your computer, you are helping keep your passwords private. Another rule to follow regarding passwords is keeping them distinctive. If, for some reason, you were permitted to enter fifty different locked houses, you wouldn’t expect to use the same key for every single one of them, would you?
While these methods are designed to help out the average person with their personal security browsing the web, the reality is that the internet still will be a dangerous place. Like the wild west once was, the internet can be viewed like a wide-open range where all sorts of vicious outlaws can hide out for years, maintaining a low profile but occasionally striking where it hurts. This risk is one that we all accept when we use the internet, but, if we remember to use the internet wisely and not treat it like we’re running down a long, dark alley with all of our money in our back pocket, our personal security will be greatly enhanced.
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