There are simply no guarantees once you log onto the internet; no fail safes that will 100% prevent your computer from being hacked. You can take measures to prevent hacking and identity theft, but internet users must always realize they are at risk.

The law doesn’t really protect you either, so it’s up to consumers to be proactive about their own safety, to make it as difficult as possible for computer hackers to take advantage of you, and to potentially prevent viruses from causing your system to crash.

What Risks Are Out There?

Hackers will do a few things. One is causing mischief, like garden variety vandalism but much more widespread and damaging to many more people. They create viruses and cause them to get into people’s machines via email, all because they get a thrill from the power they wield and the crisis they can cause.

That is one good reason to never open or engage with a chain email: it could have originated from a hacker and you are now spreading the virus to dozens of people unknowingly. Discourage friends from sending forwarded items even if they look innocent or funny.

Another risk is that a hacker will utilize your address as a means of getting to other people. Here is how it looks: Jim gets an email from someone claiming to be you, with your email address, and he opens the email or sends it forward to Jody. Now Jim and Jody both have a virus on their computers or their security has been breached and it looks like the virus started with you, but it didn’t. This is the newest game in town.

Hackers get into unsecured systems and find personal information like credit card numbers or even details they can use to stalk someone. Whether money is involved or simple invasion of privacy, you are vulnerable without adequate security. People could become paranoid if they didn’t take a step back and realize there are ways to defend your privacy and protect that of others.

How to Protect Yourself

Always stay up to date with the latest protective systems. Whichever safety program you have chosen, you are now on the email list to receive automatic notification with every update. Two popular ones are McAfee and Norton. Take some time to read through these updates they send out and apply them.

Updates do not usually cost anything extra, part of the price you paid for the software if it was not a free download. Since the risk factors change as internet criminals find ways around your system, you really need to apply the latest safeguards.

Every night when you finish with the computer, log off any systems you have been using. Clear your user history where recently used passwords have been stored. Make this a routine. Also, don’t hang around on a website for extended periods of time when you are no longer using it.

You can set your computer to forget passwords after every session at the library, on Paypal, with a government agency, or after internet banking. By choosing this function, your computer will not allow passwords to be stored in the history.

So if you are a forgetful sort of individual, it’s best to keep a book of passwords on hand rather than leaving your various online accounts password-prepared for the next visit. Whatever you do, keep your passwords in a safe place and don’t share them. Make passwords complicated enough to protect you. That is, don’t choose your birthdate or address as the code.

Set up parental controls to limit what your computer is willing to download. Many of the viruses that plague computers are borne on the back of porn sites and other unsavory pages.

Even if you are not going to buy something, stay away from unsecured sites wherever possible. This becomes more difficult all the time as more and more information is located on the internet and anyone can start up a site with or without security.

It is second nature to look up academic details for an essay or trivial fact to share at a party by using a website rather than going to the library. Typing a request into the search engine is much faster.

When doing your shopping and browsing, choose websites that are secured. If you plan to engage in e-commerce for buying things online, you must see symbols on the site which indicate that your details will be protected.

Particularly, you want SSL indicated by a padlock symbol. This tells you that the web host for this website has provided security so that your account and payment details should remain confidential. No one is getting into this program to steal your credit card number and expiry date. Look for evidence that Norton or McAfee are in use.

How to Protect Others

As noted above, anyone can run a website or a blog page highlighting recipes and articles, you included. Remember that the information on some pages might not seem worth hacking because no one would be able to obtain financial information, but your address could be hijacked for illegal purposes.

So, even your parenting column or tourist journal could put people at risk if they share their email address on your e-newsletter form or sign in to leave a comment. Sign up for SSL security when you arrange for web hosting.

This is not necessarily provided as an automatic feature, so check the terms of your monthly billing carefully. SSL can be added on later if you have failed to provide this level of security so far, and if you’re running a website commercially the added safeguard is likely to boost your sales.

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