It’s not hard to stay safe online with these easy tips

Being the computer geek type, I am often asked questions pertaining to the Internet, specifically e-mails and Facebook messages. Most of these questions are dealing with security issues, i.e., should I open this? Should I ignore it? Does Facebook really want me to change my password? If you are online at all, you probably know what I am talking about.

There are some general rules I use when perusing the Internet and it’s served me pretty well over the years. I’ve been online since 1995, and I can only recall getting a virus or being hacked a couple of times. My website hosting server has been hacked before, but that was outside of my control as I don’t physically have a web server in my home. All I can do is scramble to fix the damage, and it’s not easy.

But, generally speaking, you can stay safe and uninfected online. Here’s a few tips I share with you, and hopefully, you’ll stay safe in your adventures on the World Wide Web. Wow. It’s been a while since we’ve heard that phrase, hasn’t it?

Don’t open or preview e-mails automatically if you use software like Outlook or Windows Mail. If you use a hosted web service like Gmail or Yahoo, your chances for infection are greatly decreased as their servers scan your e-mails pretty thoroughly for malicious content. That won’t keep you from getting spam e-mails with links to sites that can infect your computer, however. If you use Outlook or Windows Mail to check your e-mail hosted by your Internet provider, please understand this may not be “scrubbed” and could carry any number of infected e-mails. If you have the option, turn off the “Preview” pane of your mail program. By turning that off, e-mails aren’t automatically opened, and won’t be until you manually open them.

Avoid sites that offer things that are just too good to be true. You’ve seen the offers for free iPads, cameras, even cars or money. There’s an old saying that has a ton of truth behind it: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Keep your antivirus software up-to-date. I hear all the time when I work on computers that the client wants a particular antivirus program. Most even bring their $39.99 copy with them. What I often find is that no matter what version of which brand they use, it’s out of date, and that pretty much renders it useless. All antivirus programs out there must be regularly updated and some do it automatically. The downside to pricey packages from the store is that after 1 year, unless you pay the fee again to the AV software company, or buy another program off the shelf, your software stops updating and you are left unprotected. There is only one paid antivirus program I believe in. It’s called NOD32 by a company called E-set. It’s the best at what it does and it doesn’t drag your computer’s speed down as much as the others. What I typically recommend for most people though are free alternatives. PC Tools makes a great free version of their antivirus program, as does AVG, Avira and a free version of BitDefender. Free or paid, KEEP IT UP-TO-DATE, or otherwise, it’s useless.

Read everything carefully. Read it again, and when you’ve had a cup of coffee, read it again! Paying close attention and using common sense are sometimes the best practice.

Stay away from Facebook viral links. You won’t really find out what dad caught his daughter doing, or what a teacher did to her student. These are all methods hackers use to take over your Facebook account. Anytime you click on a link or app and you are requested to give your permission for it to access your profile, steer clear. Use good judgment. If you wanted to play Farmville and clicked on it to play it, then say “Allow” or “Okay.” Otherwise, if it’s not something you purposely initiated then don’t allow it.

Avoid sites with inappropriate content. I can’t tell you how many computers I’ve worked on, where it’s obvious what the customer had been “looking at” prior to their computer experiencing a slow quasi-death.

These few practical steps should keep you pretty safe online.  The Internet can be a big place, but also a small place in some ways. Keep it safe for you and your family.