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Web Awareness: How To Protect Yourself Against The Web


Lucas Shaffer - February 26, 2010 - 4 comments

We’ve all seen them, some of us have been unfortunate to have them.  Finding yourself with a virus or malware application that will run rampant on your computer is only a click away.  There are a few things you can do to give yourself the power to interact with the web and not worry about malicious attacks on your personal stash of family photos or media libraries.  I have been the victim once or twice and know there is no real advice that is full proof.  I will do my best to help!

These tips are provided for users who may have never thought about these type of issues and can be boring for the advanced web surfer but I will keep try and stay short and entertain as well.

First, lets set a few things straight.  You are to blame.  Your lack of knowledge about computers is what I want to try and drill into your mind.  Nothing, short of a blatant hacker who has isolated you for some type of gain or as revenge, is done to your computer without you either acknowledging the action by clicking the mouse or hitting the enter key.  Your actions are directly related to being safe on the web.  Understanding this, I will give you a few things to think about next time you see a pop-up window or a ‘legit’ site.  Giving you the knowledge to identify ‘careless’ tendencies and cure these bad habits on the web will keep your computer healthy.  It’s in your hands.


Being an adventurous soul, as most of us are, we want to see, do and read everything available on the web and there are ‘other’ people who want prevent this or worse, steal from us.  Virus writers tend to be bored, intelligent beings that hold the idea of creating the most unstoppable bug and unleashing it on the world!  In other cases, malware coders want your stats.  They want your histories of web pages, your tendencies, your intimate details; all to be polled for Ad campaigns.  In some cases, these bugs can cause pop-ups or other website navigation issues.  In the worst case scenario failure of the computer altogether is possible.

Here is a checklist to better prepare you when using the Web.

  1. Know Your Sites –  Your ability to observe is key.  The easiest way to lead yourself astray is to not clearly identify where you are.  Sure, everything looks the same and I remember this button and that button.  Your familiarity with your daily sites is the most common duplicated feature for attackers to take advantage of.

My policy is to always have the URL (website address) clearly in view.  If I am on eBay, I expect to see http://www.ebay.com and not http://iwanttostealyourmoney.net/ebay.  Even a less obvious detail would be to find yourself looking over a URL that says http://www.ebaysite.com. You are indeed on the wrong site and need to leave this page immediately.

  • Clicking Your Mouse– Your mouse and keyboard are really to blame.  Some time ago, many browsers began supporting security features that prevented any action to take place on your computer without you first giving permission.  This is a tricky subject.  For example, how do you know when you give something permission to carry out an action on your computer?  Most attackers choose this ambiguous notion to misguide users to do things they normally wouldn’t do.  If you have been presented with a pop-up that says, “My Site would like to do something.  Please click OK or Cancel.” You may find yourself unsure what is about to happen and rightly so.As a web developer I know I can tie malicious actions to either the OK or CANCEL buttons so this is a no-brainer;  close the window altogether.  If you “know this site” and all is well, then go forward with your action.  Otherwise, leave the browser immediately and mentally high-five yourself; you may have just saved your computer!
  • Protect Yourself – It’s a little late in the game to say you can’t afford virus/malware protection because there are several leading edge applications that are FREE and very useful.  AVG, Microsoft Security Essentials  and Spyware Doctor are just a few that can help prevent the little nasties from your computer.  However, anti-virus software does not protect against YOU installing something you are not 100% sure is safe.  Frequently, attackers hide bugs in files that look like valid files.  What to do?  When it doubt, delete it out!I am always asked by friends and family who have ‘unknowingly’ obtained a nasty bug and my first question is always, “What did you last install?”  Ha!  Don’t shrug your shoulders.  If you can’t remember what you are installing on your computer, then you shouldn’t be installing anything on your computer.  Screensaver packages, background wallpaper generators and unmonitored free software (in general) are breeding grounds for new malicious software creators.  This leads me to my next point!
  • Researching Software – Be smart, computers are awesome tools and can do great things.  Read about your software first and look for peer reviews.  If you find no information, then this is usually a bad sign.  No information is bad information.  Good, healthy software applications have robust descriptions and reviews mainly because their writers have paraded their new vision or new tool to many people.  The reviews can be numerous and whether positive or negative immediately may show signs of malicious actions and consumer complaints.How do I research software?  Google it.  Again, no search results means pass by this software.  Special cases include you knowing the person, or team who developed the site.
  • Spam – Your email inbox is an open invitation for anyone to contact you about sex medication, narcotics, russian brides, western union scams and just about everything you don’t want.  It’s amazing the amount of Spam that is blocked before it hits your inbox.  Millions upon millions an hour get cut off before it gets to you.  So, what do you do?  You don’t open anything unless you are expecting it or you know the sender.  Everything else is white noise and should be ‘Marked’ as Spam for future filtering purposes.You can also help in building trust with your friends and family by not forwarding Spam.  For example,  other people’s ideas on “How to prevent a heart attack by coughing” or “Skyway to Heaven“(untrue explanation of Disney ride) are considered Spam.  Do you ever wonder why some people never reply to these?  Because they don’t read them.  Help all your friends, including me, by sending only pertinent messages that you expect replies to.  If you are the one forwarding me emails with “FW:FW>>>FW:FW:” in the subject line I will not open.  Matter of fact, the priority in which I open and respond in has now sent you to the bottom.  I understand you are trying to help. I understand you want to help others but by forwarding false information you are lowering your value as an email contact and this could cause issues in the future.
  • Simulated Actions– Twice today, I have already been in contacted by two people who have been duped into downloading Software to help “clean” the bugs supposedly reported.  I have seen this so let me explain.  Out of no where, a window pops up and the status, address and navigation toolbars are hidden and it looks like a valid Windows application.  Some cogs spin and a progress bar about half way down the window shows progress.  Alongside the progress bar a counter is increasing and the number is alarming.  Add to the fact that beside this rising number is the term “Security Risks.” Immediately, everyone is alarmed.  Even me.  BUT, I quickly see this is a web page designed to simulate something real so I think I am in imminent danger.  How tricky is that?  There are some smart people out there trying to spread their bugs.Be careful to take your time to make decisions that could penetrate your computer.  This simulated action is going around fast because it states you must make a decision or your computer will be no good anymore.  That is simply not true.
  • Backups, Backups, Backups – Do this today.  You will eventually download and install a virus.  The ideas of trickery and misleading designs are getting stronger and smarter.  You will use your back up several times PER computer.  Yes, you will own more than one computer and you data collection will grow as you move to each new system.  It is imperative your data is transferable and backed up regularly.  It’s just smart.  Don’t let those 11 years of digital photo albums get erased by a bug that you, yourself, downloaded.

Some of these are basic ideas that can help even a novice computer user.  You need to be the responsible one in the relationship.  The computer will not install a virus or download a malware program by itself.  Understanding that you are the gatekeeper can be a powerful tool in helping you navigate web.

Good luck out there!

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4 comments

  1. nathanrouse

    all of the above is why i love my mac.

  2. nathanrouse

    all of the above is why i love my mac.

  3. Lucas Shaffer

    Thanks for the comment Nathan! Even though you own a Mac you are still vulnerable! Apple spent a lot marketing funds on making their users believe that Mac is impenetrable. It's just untrue.All computers are at risk on the web.Standard things like Windows "Blue Screen of Death" is related to the Mac "Kernel Panic" where everything fails and you must restart the computer. Even Mac's can get viruses and bugs. Check into Mac AntiVirus software, it's out there and you can find it anywhere.The more Mac becomes popular the more we will see the vulnerabilities of Mac OS become compromised.

  4. Lucas Shaffer

    Thanks for the comment Nathan! Even though you own a Mac you are still vulnerable! Apple spent a lot marketing funds on making their users believe that Mac is impenetrable. It's just untrue.

    All computers are at risk on the web.

    Standard things like Windows "Blue Screen of Death" is related to the Mac "Kernel Panic" where everything fails and you must restart the computer. Even Mac's can get viruses and bugs. Check into Mac AntiVirus software, it's out there and you can find it anywhere.

    The more Mac becomes popular the more we will see the vulnerabilities of Mac OS become compromised.

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