Advice to Computer Users

My cousin’s computer was recently infected by Koobface.  Her system is now down and unusable until we can find a trustworthy source for removing it.

Some time ago, a company with which I worked was hacked through a phishing scam.  This event cost them about $750K in actual banked money.  Beyond that, they lost about a week of productivity from their accounting, legal, and IT support staff.

Both of these events could have been avoided by following a two simple rules when surfing the Internet:

  1. Never click on links in unsolicited messages from anyone.
  2. Never click on pop-ups.

Following those two rules religiously will go a long way toward guaranteeing safe surfing.  But, as stated, they are at the same time too rigid and not cautionary enough.  I presented them that way for ease of memory.  If in doubt, follow them religiously.

Added Cautionary Warnings
Unsolicited messages are messages that you receive by e-mail, twitter, chat, or any other form of Internet communication.  Chat can be on Facebook, AOL, Microsoft Live, Skype, etc.  Messages can come through your social network sites as well. These messages can appear to be from friends, from your bank, from some service you use on the web; they can come from sources that appear trusted.  They might ask you to click a link to go verify your account. They might ask you to watch a video.  They might appear very professional or very personal.  Resist the urge to trust them.

Relax
So what if your friend really does want to send you a link to a video with you in it?  What if your back really does have  a problem with your account?  Following that above advice to the letter will cause you to miss it.  There are never exceptions. Follow the advice.  But, if you get a message from a professional organization, call them.  If they’re not a brick & mortar organization, navigate to the website directly, using the links that you normally use and not the links in the e-mail.  You will most likely find that there is no problem.  If the message is from a friend, send a separate e-mail back.  (Don’t reply to the message or send a copy of the link!) Ask if they sent you a link.  If they don’t respond, or if they say they didn’t, then delete the message.  If it came in chat, strike up a conversation, ask them to send it to you via e-mail.

Pop Ups
Use your judgement here.  Some pop ups are not only fine, but they are required.  (It annoys me when a professional website requires them, but it happens.)  Use careful judgment.  When in doubt, don’t allow the Pop Up.  If you are ever told in a Pop Up that you might be infected with a virus, do not click anything on the window.  Look at the task bar. You should see an icon related to that window.  Right click on it and select close.

There is so much more I wish I could tell you.  Maybe I will over time. For now, just follow this advice and you will avoid most problems. Every blogger should have a post like this or a link to a post like this.

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