Recommendations for Safe and Efficient Use of the Internet

This guide is for those who are new to computers or the Internet to help introduce some tools and ideas to help you get the most out of the web while keeping your computer and data safe.

Use Ninite.com to quickly grab the free software recommended here.

This updated 2017 guide about computer and online security covers the topic in more modern detail than many of the points below: The jargon-free guide to computer and internet security

The right browser for viewing the web and staying safe online

If you are using Windows, then you should be familiar with Internet Explorer (the blue e) as the built-in program for viewing web pages (web browser). If you are using a Mac, then Safari would be the default program on this platform. Both Internet Explorer and Safari are not recommended for browsing web pages on the Internet. The previous versions of Internet Explorer (version 8 and below) lack the ability to display some parts of web pages, so you are actually missing some content if you are using Internet Explorer. Safari has been proven to be highly exploitable, where in the last few years it has been the first to go down in a hacking contest (pwn2own), sometimes within seconds. Firefox and Chrome are the recommended browsers for both Windows and Mac to see web pages are they intended to be displayed, with Firefox as the more popular choice. Internet Explorer 9 was released in March of 2011 and helped to fix many of the shortcomings known with the previous versions.

What you are missing when using webmail

Webmail is handy if you need to access your email while away from your home computer, but it is not a replacement from using a proper email program to check and manage your email. Many people may end up using the webmail from the website because it requires no setup and is easy, but this lacks key features like message filtering and offline access. With an email program like Thunderbird or Windows Live Mail, you can setup filters to handle the messages as they come in, this means that the program will help you to automatically move spam messages and other junk as it comes in. Another benefit of checking your email with a program, is that the messages are stored on your computer, so you will still have access to them, even if you do not have an Internet connection. If you would still like to be able to use the webmail when away from your computer, then set the email program up with the incoming server type as IMAP (instead of the default POP type) so that a copy of the messages is left both on your computer as well as on the mail server (webmail), just be mindful that the mail server does not allow you an unlimited amount of storage. Please read the section below about antivirus programs, as many of them create problem with email access.

Most Antivirus Programs are the Lesser of Two Evils

Considering the way that many antivirus programs severely slow down your machine, break your email and Internet, corrupt your files, and ask you for your money at the same time, they are not too much different from having an infection on your machine. For Windows users, Windows Defender is built-in and it’s free. Don’t be fooled by the marketing campaigns of the other antivirus providers, they leverage your fears for your dollars, and tout unnecessary features like software ‘firewalls’, email scanning, and some bunk about scanning for safe web links. For a real firewall, NAT translation is recommended, which is provided by every router (except the factory configuration of some Apple routers), and is also provided through the MCSnet radio if you do not have a router to do this (if you have a router, NAT is off on the radio we install on your roof, and if you have no router, then NAT is on).

Email scanning is an unnecessary addition, and just another point of failure – a proper antivirus is scanning everything on your computer already, there is no need for a redundant check on your email, it is already being scanned by the real time scanner. Most antivirus programs like Norton and Mcafee are force fed to you as you purchase your computer, remember that you should only have one antivirus program installed at a time, if you completely uninstall your current antivirus program in Windows, Windows Defender should take over automatically. If you have a Mac, then Apple has been recommending the use of an antivirus program for a couple of years now, unfortunately, none of the current solutions are very nice, but not using Safari is your best first step.

Use a Cable When You Can

Although wireless connections can be very handy, they also introduce unnecessary complications and additional points of failure between your computer and the Internet. Instead of relying upon a wireless connection between your computer and wireless router, use a cable where possible. A cable requires no configuration, just works, and is faster. Wireless networking has improved as the technology and standards improve and adapt, but who wants their Internet connection to go down every time someone turns on the microwave or pop-corn popper?

Some Things You Should Know for Using Your Computer on the Internet

The first few tips here are to keep your system, programs, and antivirus up to date, and then we explore some common sense for email and the web. The common sense section is the most important; although antivirus is recommended, with proper habits, you should be able to safely surf without using any antivirus at all. Most infections are applications that are socially engineered to trick you into installing them, and they are not getting onto your system without your co-operation.

Install Operating System Security Updates

Whether you are using Windows, Mac, or Linux, every operating system has bugs and security exploits. It is critical to keep your system up to date by installing security updates as they are released. Windows users should automatically receive updates on the second Tuesday of every month, or you can manually check for updates through Windows Update. If you are using Mac or Linux, you might think that this does not apply to you, but there are a large number of critical updates released for both platforms regularly, and Apple has been recommending that it’s users install an antivirus for the past couple of years.

 Install Application Security Updates

Just as in suggestion #1 above, there are bugs and exploits in most of the programs that you install on your computer, and it is common for the black hats to go after software that is likely to be installed on most machines, like Adobe Reader/Flash, Java, Internet Explorer, and itunes/Safari. Installing the newest version of the software is the best way to keep these up to date.

Install a quality Anti-Virus Application

We are lucky to have Microsoft Security Essentials available, it’s the best antivirus on the market, and it’s free. Remember to remove your current antivirus program before installing a new one. If you are on a Mac, then Security Essentials is not available to you, so you might want to do a bit of research to see what is going to work for you. Windows 10 has Security Essentials built in, under the newer moniker Windows Defender.

Keep your Anti-Virus up to date

New viruses and vulnerabilities are found daily around the Internet, and the definitions to antivirus are often updated daily to catch the associated attacks. If you are using Microsoft Security Essentials, then definitions are updated daily, but your computer should get these automatically through Windows Update.

Using your Brain to Outsmart Common Scams and Tricks

This is the most important section as far as security is concerned, as nearly all infections require your co-operation to get implanted in your system.

Common Sense Tips while using Email:
  • Delete any suspicious email from someone you don’t know
  • Delete any email with a file attachment you weren’t expecting even if it appears to be coming from a close friend or family member! You cannot be sure that their computer is not infected and sent this out automatically. If the email was legit, ask them about it later and have them resend it.
  • Do not click on any web links contained in an email, the links may go to a different location than they appear, and it is better to manually navigate to the website.
  • Delete any emails from any company to tell you your account was hacked or they require info from you. Banks will call you on the phone if there is a problem with your account.  Even if the email was legit, kill it, and call your bank or any other supposed source of the message. You should try and keep private and secure information out of your email, it is not a secure format, and you do not want your identity to be stolen.
  • Delete any email that tells you to send money somewhere
  • Delete any email that tells you that you’ve won money
  • Delete any email with an attachment that’s compressed and password protected
  • Be wary of poorly written broken English emails. Most scams and viruses are created in Eastern Countries where English is a second or third language.
  • Be very wary of Greeting cards and Evites.  Most of them want you to click on a link, which is a bad idea.
  • Delete any email that does not look right or scares you.  When in doubt, throw it out
Common Sense Tips while surfing the web:
  • If you come across a website that tells you your computer is infected or is offering to scan your computer, leave the website immediately. Some of these sites will throw alert windows at you, making it near impossible to leave the site, and in this case you will want to close your web browser entirely. A scam to get you to install something on your computer is never a good thing
  • NEVER install any software from a Website unless you know EXACTLY what it is and you actually went to that website to install it.  Some websites you visit will prompt you to install some software to either scan your computer for malicious software or to allow you to watch a movie – be VERY wary of this stuff.  There is almost NO way of knowing what it is you are installing. No credible company will ask you to install anything in order to view their site. (Adobe Flash/Reader or Microsoft Silverlight are exceptions to this rule).
  • Never install free games found on the internet.  If you want a game for your kids, try to stick to Flash based games that work in your browser.  If a kids site wants you to install something on your computer, forget it and get out of there!
  • If you can, avoid the shadowy side of the internet: Porn sites, Hacking Sites, file sharing Sites and Applications, Password Sites etc. These are all FULL of Malicious software just waiting to be installed on your computer.
  • Always scan external hard drives and USB flash drives before using the contained files, it is very common for infections to implant their files on all drives on an infected machine.
  • Avoid installing unnecessary toolbars in your browser. Many free applications will have you opt out of the extra junk they try to throw at your machine, but there is literally no use for the Ask/Yahoo/Google/Mcafee/etc. toolbars these days, and you are throwing your privacy away to these companies when you use these.

Where to get the Recommended Software

If you are using Windows, You don’t have to go all over the web searching for files and then avoiding the free crap during the installation process, because some wonderful people made Ninite.com. With Ninite, you can just select the software that you want, it’s all up to date, and you get a custom installer that will do it all for you. If you are on a Mac, then you will have to use Google to find the apps.

Recommended Applications:
  • Google Chrome – web browser
  • Mozilla Firefox – web browser
  • Mozilla Thunderbird – email client
  • Picasa – photo viewer and manipulator
  • Adobe Reader – opens PDFs (Foxit reader is also good)
  • Security Essentials – Remember to uninstall any antivirus software first
  • All of the runtimes (flash/Java/.NET/Silverlight) – better to get these here now instead of later and wondering about what some webpage is trying to get you to install
  • WinRAR – file compression and decompression utility, better than the one built into Windows

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