Knowing how to use the Internet in the 21st century can only be equivocated to having a super power. You can do things that people 30 years ago thought only The Jetsons would be able to accomplish: send letters without needing postage, turn your car on from your phone, operate traffic lights and fire, police and ambulance notification systems. The world is your oyster. However, like any super power, if all of this control is placed in the wrong hands, personal and public safety is called into question.
I try to use the Internet with caution, and I struggle to understand why anyone would hack into your computer or spread a virus. But, just last week, I was the victim of a Viagrus (an email virus touting Viagra). True, this email spammer does no actual damage to my computer, but there is sustained damage to my dignity.
Within moments of opening the Viagrus, it was sent to all of the friends and family in my contacts list. My dad, brother and husband didn’t miss a beat: Was I trying to send them a not so subtle signal? No, dad, I’m not angling for another sibling. No, it’s not a hint. The jokes flooded in, and, in a few days, I was rid of the Viagrus and a little wiser, too.
Even though, my situation could be resolved by a few uncomfortable jokes between father and daughter, brother and sister, it got me thinking: With so many hackers and viruses floating around the Internet, the need for understanding what viruses are and how they affect your virtual world is more important today than ever. Unfortunately, computer safety is rarely taken as seriously as it should. So listen up. Keeping your information safe is easy, just follow these steps.
To understand what hacking is, think of it as virtual breaking and entering. A masked villain is infiltrating your computer to steal what is rightfully yours: your virtual property. Once hackers break in, they can alter important information, delete key files, and even crash an entire network of computers.
Most often, computer hackers break into large consumer websites. The goal: to steal bank account and credit card information. Consider these tips for your Internet security:
· Use a firewall. Even though hackers usually affect large company websites, that does not mean that home networks are completely safe. With a firewall in place, you can control your security, and filter what information from the internet is safe and what is not.
· Use caution when giving out personal information on the internet. We hear it all the time, but do we really listen? Use software to keep information safe, and only give out your information if you trust the company. Check the BBB Business Review before buying from a company of which you have no direct knowledge.
· Ignore your preconceived notions. Kids hack too. It’s hard to imagine a teenager that has the power and knowledge to bring a network of computers to their knees, but it’s been done. According to Martha Stansell-Gamm, Head of the Justice Department’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section, an 18 year old “instructed 7,000 computers to attack Microsoft networks.” Teach your children safe computer practices, just as you would teach them that robbing a bank or driving drunk is wrong. Just because it’s virtual doesn’t mean the consequences are virtual too.
Viruses are similar to hacking in that they exist to impair or destroy the infrastructure of your computer. However, much as its name would signify, a virus is like a common cold. It is easily passed from computer to computer through the Internet with nothing more that the click of a button or the opening of an email. Once it reaches as far as it can, the virus takes over the hosting computer.
Unfortunately, for its victims, viruses infect your computer often before you even know what you did wrong.
· Don’t open emails that are suspicious. It’s relatively common knowledge that you shouldn’t open an email that touts “FREE FREE FREE” or “VIAGRA CHEAP” in the subject line, but the landscape of email viruses has changed in the last few years. Now, viruses can appear as if they are coming from someone in your contacts. Make sure to monitor subject lines, even if you know the sender, and if you are the victim of an email virus, immediately warn your contacts because they are the next target. After that, change your password often over the next few weeks.
· Back up your information. Viruses can affect just your email, but, too often, they spread throughout your entire computer. While buying a new computer can be painful, losing pictures, documents and music can hurt even more. Once a month, once a week, even once a day, take the time to back up information that you can’t live without.
In summation, use your powers for good, but remember that the Internet houses many-a-Lex Luthor just waiting in the shadows for the opportunity to wreak havoc on your virtual life.