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Consumer Tips

Be Safe Online

HONESTe Online Consumer
Security Tips

Using the Internet has become one of the easiest ways for criminals to steal information. With so much of it available, it's increasingly important to protect your identity while online. This means blocking unwanted intrusions by spyware, worms, and other malware. It means taking precautions when revealing information, and becoming aware of what you give out, to whom, and why.

Databases provide a wealth of information for the thief. If you have a driver's license, social security number, credit cards, insurance, financial accounts, etc., you have reason for concern. All of your personal information is stored on computers, and it may be at risk if it is on an unsecured computer. Any sensitive information should be encrypted.

Here is our list of things you can do to increase your level of safety and security on the Internet.

Remove personal information from computer

Limit the amount of personal information to keep on your computer, and remove as much of it as possible. Copy what you need onto a disk and lock it away. Keeping Social Security numbers, birthdates, account numbers, passwords, and similar information on your computer is an invitation to hackers.

Encrypt sensitive information

If you need to store personal information on your computer, make certain it is encrypted. Never put sensitive information in an e-mail unless it is encrypted.

Recognize spyware

Finding spyware on your computer can be extremely upsetting and frustrating. It's used to spy on your activities without your knowledge or consent. All sorts of confidential information is collected passwords, user names, shopping activities, e-mail, financial information, and more. Some spyware can appear without the criminal even having physical access to your computer.

To identify where the spyware is coming from and prevent snooping on your browsing activities, use an anti-spyware program. This is an easy way to deal with aggressive marketers and those trying to get information they have no right to see, as well as eliminate malicious code.

Create barriers anti-virus and firewall protection

By using a firewall, you've made it more difficult for hackers to break into your computer and steal information or place unwanted elements onto it. Anti-virus software scans and deletes bugs and viruses before they can damage files and steal information.

Download anti-virus protection and update it regularly, and use a firewall to keep hackers out. You need to have both on your computer, in addition to anti-spyware. This is because each program will protect against different threats.

Download security patches

Security patches are used to plug any holes in the security of your operating system. Be sure to download and install the latest security patches and updates for your operating system.

Download with care

Be very careful about what you are downloading from the Internet. Some sites will put spyware and adware into their downloads in order to track where you go and what you do online. Don't click on hyperlinks sent by strangers or people you don't trust.

Beware of hackers

Whether you realize it, hackers are constantly trying to break into your computer to infect it. Their spyware, viruses, and worms may find its way onto your computer in the most innocent of ways; simply by opening a file or attachment that has been infected, or buried deep within shareware or free programs.

Change your passwords

Change your passwords frequently, and don't use the same one for all of your required logins. Use combinations of letters and numbers that are randomized and difficult to guess. Never use birthdates, telephone numbers, or anything that might be easy to guess. Automatic logins compromise the security of your information. Always logout of a site so no one can see your information.

Use encrypted browsers

Some browsers are more secure than others are. Use one that encrypts information. Whenever you submit data, look for the "lock icon" on the browser's status bar or an indication the site uses secure socket layer (SSL) to be sure your information is secure during transmission. Some secure sites will have an "s" after the "http" to let you know that your information is safe.

Although most people use Internet Explorer, it is notorious for being easy to penetrate and requires frequent safety patches. You may want to consider using a more secure browser which provides a higher level of safety.

Use unique, secure passwords

Choose passwords having a combination of letters and numbers. Don't use anything obvious, like birthdays, telephone numbers, etc.

Choose a new password for each place that requires a login. It's safest to change passwords every few months.

Never use an automatic login, which saves your username and password, and makes it easy for hackers to attack. Always logoff a site so your information can't be viewed. This is particularly important if you are using a shared or public computer, such as at a library or cyber café.

Public computers

A thief doesn't need to have much computer expertise to install a keylogger on a public computer and steal your information. The criminal can have the stolen information e-mailed back to his account or back to the computer where the logs can be seen.

Computers in libraries, cyber cafes, copying centers, and similar locations are vulnerable.

Monitor computer use

If someone other than yourself has access to your computer, monitor its use. Know when they are using it and have some idea of which sites are being visited and what they are doing.

Remove private information from your computer

Don't keep your credit card numbers, account numbers, birthdates, passwords, and similar information on your computer. This is a hacker's dream. Copy what you need to disk and store it in a safe place, locked away.

Overwrite your hard drive before disposal

Before getting rid of any computer, it's important to remove all of your personal information. The entire hard drive should be overwritten to make it impossible to recover your files. There are "wipe" utility programs that will do this.

You can get information from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) at www.epic.org.

Who's using your computer?

If other people are using your computer, be particularly careful about what they can gain access to, and where they surf. They may be downloading at an unsafe site that will infect your computer with a virus, or more likely, attach spyware without the user's knowledge or consent. Make sure you understand the privacy policies of the sites you are visiting.

Privacy policies

Make sure that the web sites you are using have privacy policies. Read them, and make sure you understand what information they are collecting and how the information collected is used and shared.

Sites that don't have a policy posted should be considered suspect.

Disconnect from the Internet

When not using your computer online, make sure it is not connected to the Internet. If your computer is turned off when not in use, it cannot be attacked.

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