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August 30, 2008

Safe Computing Tips

Richard Kuper
The Kuper Report

This article was originally posted August 8, 2007 but is still relevant,
and so we are reposting it now.

If someone is truly determined to hack into your computer or your emails and they have the tools and knowhow, then they will probably succeed. But you can make it harder for them to do so. Unless it is the government. On Monday, President George W. Bush signed into law an expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), giving government expanded rights to intercept phone calls and e-mails without warrants.

You can protect your computer by installing a suite of protection products. One such product, Grisoft's AVG Internet Security Suite has previously been reviewed. (See the original review here and the follow-up here.)

Such suites provide protection from spyware and viruses and a variety of other malware. That would be an excellent first step. And of course be sure to keep it up to date and proactive.

Be very careful what emails you choose to open, and set your email to hide graphics by default. If you are confident that a particular email is from a trusted source, you can always activate the graphics for that individual email as you are viewing it. Turning off graphics in email is a simple way to prevent a lot of the newer means of introducing malware to your computer that just might start capturing everything you do, including all your passwords.

Be very careful about clicking on links, especially in emails that look like they came from your financial institution. The safest way to deal with your financial institution online is to not click on links in emails, but instead go to their website by entering their web address directly into your browser. Otherwise you may end up at a very good copy that looks like your financial institution's website but is instead a rogue site that will collect all the information you type and then will use it to potentially steal your identity, or at least order lots of stuff in your name billed to you but shipped somewhere else.

When connecting to the internet, never do so from a computer id that has administrative rights except when absolutely necessary (e.g., to download and install new software that you purchase online from a reputable source). Being connected to the internet with administrative rights is akin to leaving your front door open while you are not at home and expecting no one will walk in andpotentially walk out with many of your valuables.

When creating passwords, try to use a combination of letters and numbers, and the longer the password the better. Of course, don't write it down and leave it by the computer or where someone could find it.

And if you really want secure communication in email, you need to be sending encrypted email. That's not as easy as all of the other suggestions above. It requires a means for encrypting by the sender and decrypting by the receiver, and the encryption/decryption codes can only be known by just those parties for it to truly be of value.

Does your cell phone have internet access? Then it can be hacked just as easily as your desktop or notebook computer.

One more thing. It does not matter what brand computer or cell phone you have. All are vulnerable.

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