Internet Security Basics – Software

By Jesse Card

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and politicians discuss whether the Internet is a basic right, we are reminded just how vital the Internet has become on a daily basis. The “webinization” (yes, a made-up word) of everything from keeping up with friends to paying bills (I’m definitely happy to no longer suffer tongue cuts from envelopes) has definitely made life more convenient. However, this convenience has come with some new risks. Therefore, as the FCC discusses whether the Internet is actually all that important in D.C., it certainly is a good time for us to discuss how to protect ourselves when using the Internet.

Because Internet security has several areas on which we may focus in this short space, this piece is going to come out in several parts. In this first part we focus our attention on the “stuff” going on inside your Internet machine.

Local Software. First, never, ever go without a security program on every system you connect to the Internet. There are several security programs out there, all of them are happy to offer increasing levels of security at graduated costs, but for most of us a basic (free!) antivirus program is sufficient. Right now, I am using the free antivirus program from Avast, but I also often use AVG’s free program and both – along with Malwarebytes, Panda, Bitdefender, and other favorites – are among PC Magazine’s list of top 10, free, antivirus programs for 2015. Going with any of these will offer plenty of protection from the main risks most of us face.

Update, Update, Update. Every program you use issues periodic updates and fixes to respond to newly-developed, program-specific threats, closing doors from weaknesses hackers exploit to gain access to the rest of your system. Be sure to update regularly and definitely do not ignore requests to update. Of particular importance are updating your operating system (e.g. Windows), Web browser, Java, and, of course, your security software. Further, if you are working with an old, unsupported operating system (such as Windows XP), purchase a newer one: it is relatively expensive, but better than a hacker getting into your virtual piggy bank (thankfully the cash in your mattress will still be fine—from that threat at least).

Downloading New Programs. Never download a program with which you’re unfamiliar. Any time that notice pops up asking if you’re sure you want to download/install a program (and you’re NEVER going to turn that off for any reason), do not click “Yes“ or “OK,” if you don’t know whence the download originated and did not initiate the download. I also avoid downloading many programs beyond what I need and use regularly: more programs mean more background processes (slowing down your computer) and increased risk for intrusion. For about a hundred reasons, it is especially important to restrict the ability of guests on your computer, especially young ones, trying to download new programs. This can be done by creating separate user accounts and restricting the ability to download to only the admin account, protected by a username and password.

Summary. Carefully manage the software on your computer to ensure you’re protected locally before adventuring into the interwebs beyond. Next we will discuss some basics regarding passwords and site-specific threats.

Happy browsing!