The recent Photobucket hack has left many of us feeling somewhat helpless while the problem was being resolved. While there is nothing that can be done if a remote site is hacked, there are plenty of precautions you can take to avoid both spam and hackers right here at home.
I’ve compiled a short list of what I think are 13 of the most important things you should know. Most of these are common sense, but you’d be surprised at how many people I know that STILL open spam “just to see what it is”.
1. One of the easiest things you can do to avoid spam is to never give out your real email address. Your real email address should only be used with trusted friends and coworkers. For all other types of email, and for situations that require an email address from you, you should setup and use a junk email account. A junk email account is usually obtained from a free web based email provider like Hotmail or Google’s free email.
2. Don’t open junk email. The safest thing to do with junk email is to delete it. Bad things can happen by opening junk email such as; the impossible to close window scam, resetting of your homepage to the spam site, and loading of unwanted or hostile programs. You should not even consider opening junk email unless your computer is thoroughly protected and you want to take action against the sender of the spam.
3. Never open email attachments unless you trust the sender and you expected an attachment. Computer viruses and other hacker software is mainly transmitted through email attachments – (look for .exe, .cmd, .bat, or .scr extension file extensions – NEVER open those). Opening email attachments is dangerous. When you open attachments you are putting your computer at risk. Unless you are absolutely sure an email attachment is safe, you should delete the entire email. If it was something important, it can always be resent.
4. Don’t click on “remove” from mailing lists. If its a mailing list you subscribed to, or a store you trust, then you should use the email’s unsubscribe feature. For any other type of spam, you shouldn’t unsubscribe from it as this just invites more spam, nor should you be reading it in the first place.
5. Use your email program’s spam blocking features. All email programs have spam blocking features. Take some time to figure out how to block email from spammers. With many email programs it is possible to specify exactly who is allowed to send you email.
6. Change your email settings to “plain text”. Reading email in plain text offers important security benefits that more than offset the loss of pretty colored fonts.
7. Never post your IP address in a public place. This is like inviting a hacker to your door. Once they know your Internet Protocol address (four numbers divided by periods e.g. 168.320.001.01) they can begin hacking you.
8. Always run your Firewall and Antivirus programs first. A firewall, when combined with a good anti-virus program, helps stop unauthorized access on your computer, prevents virus infection, and “cloaks” your data ports against a hacker scanning for openings. Your firewall and antivirus programs should always be running before your computer connects to the Internet. If for some reason you want to turn these programs off, make sure you have first disconnected from the Internet. It is also a very good idea to enable automatic software updates in these programs so they stay up-to-date. Here are a couple that I use:
~ Spybot Search and Destroy is a great program to find and ‘destroy’ all those pesky programs, from browser hijackers to spyware and Trojans. It is a free utility, but you can offer up a few dollars for their trouble right on the site. I prefer it over McAfee or any of the others.
~Avast Antivirus Software for the Home provides continuous protection of your valuable data and programs by updating itself automatically. Simply install and forget. It also comes with anti-spyware & anti-rootkit protection for Windows, which are typically available only in the paid versions of many antivirus products.
9. When you are not using your computer, disconnect it from the Internet. One of the worst things that can happen is when a hacker breaks into your computer and you don’t even know it. To prevent unknown attacks, your computer should be disconnected from the Internet when not in use.
There are various ways to disconnect from the Internet, you could: turn off the computer, put your computer in Windows’ Standby mode (Start/Shutdown/Standby), break the Windows’ Internet connection, or power down your modem.
10. Change your password every two to three months. It’s better to write them down instead of saving them on a hard disk with insufficient firewall protection. Make your passwords unique – and include letters as well as numbers, but mix them up a bit.
11. Never let the system “remember” any of your passwords. While systems provide this as a matter of convenience, this is the most common “hack”. A password does nothing for you at all if itnever has to be entered.
12. Don’t use the same password in any two locations. Sure, it makes it easy to have the same password everywhere. Easy for you. Easy for hackers.
13. Secure your wireless networks. At home, enable WPA (Wi-Fi protected access) with a password of at least 20 characters. Configure your laptop to connect in Infrastructure mode only, and don’t add networks unless they use WPA.
I know the list could go on, but that’s 13. If you have additional feedback, shoot it down into the comments for me. I’d love to know how you are protecting your computer!
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