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Online Safety

The internet can be helpful, interesting, entertaining, and even save you money, but it is fraught with danger for the unwary. Along with sites that simply try to get you to pay for products and services that are not what they claim to be, or will never be supplied, there are Viruses, Spyware, Adware, Trojans, etc., just waiting to be downloaded onto your PC - with, or without your help! The object of Virus & Spyware infections can be anything, from simply causing havoc & spreading the infection to others via your email contacts or your network, to gaining control of your PC and all it's contents and access to your personal data.

With this information, they can impersonate you, empty your PayPal or bank account or use your eBay account. They can also open new accounts or get credit in your name, or even use your data and cards to access child pornography etc.; imagine what that could result in - and yes, it does happen!

These are just some of the dangers lurking on the web. Adult and some other sites are high-risk and obviously to be avoided, If you do wish to visit high-risk sites, it's best to use a separate, well-protected PC or Laptop if you can, when all of your other machines are switched off - and only use this machine for that purpose and at different times to access them. Whatever you do, don't subscribe or give your email address to these sites!

So, how do you get 'infected'? Usually, via fake emails, pretending to be from your bank/PayPal etc., (I'm sure you've all had these!) or by someone getting your details in a fake transaction. Another way can be via pop-ups, which tell you that your computer is 'unprotected' or 'under attack', when it is not - except from the very software that is telling you it is! These pop-ups will tell you that you need to download a 'security update' to your existing software, or download new, powerful software. Almost without exception, these are fakes, and are trying to PUT viruses on your PC - not remove them! Whatever you do, never, never, download 'Security Software' (or any other software) from, or because of a pop-up window or email, because unless it actually is a notice from your installed security software, it is almost certainly the opposite of what it purports to be and is extremely likely to infect your pc - and maybe many others too!

Always go direct to a site of your choice, by typing their web address directly into the address bar (the long empty box at the top of your browser), searching for it, or by clicking on a link you've made in your Favourites/Bookmarks - never use a pop-up or email link!. But it's easy to get caught out, what do you do if you do? Firstly, do NOT click on these notices or links, other than to close them - if you can - and even that may be risky!

1. Shut everything down and reboot your machine, then select to do a thorough virus scan, preferably with a deep scanner like Malwarebytes (downloadable for free), or use your normal security software, to check for and remove any viruses etc.

2. If you haven't just used it, check that your normal security software is running (use start/programs/accessories/system tools/system information/software environment/running tasks (in XP)). You can check this now to see what is usually running.

3. If all is clear, visit the website of your normal security software supplier directly, download any updates and check for any recent update, virus, or security notices.

Some specialists even recommend doing a 'hard' shutdown when this happens (switching off, without closing any open applications, or going through the normal shutdown procedure). Personally, I think that is rarely needed and may cause more problems in itself, but if you've lost control of your PC already, you might not have any choice! Press and hold the on/off switch for a few seconds to do this.

None of this, unfortunately, is guaranteed to keep you safe. Good protection software, being vigilant and an organised safety regime goes a long way though. The first requirement is a good Firewall, like Zone Alarm (again, free to download). A firewall is simply a programme that keep hackers (people trying to get direct access to you PC via the internet) out. Windows comes with it's own firewall, but it is not very configurable, or effective, especially if you have your own network. You also need Anti-Virus, Anti-Spyware, anti-Phishing and other anti-Malware software, to help avoid getting infected in the first place and to alert you to it and remove anything that gets through. As far as downloading goes, this is fairly safe, as long as you keep to certain guidelines, i.e., only download something if you KNOW what it is and planned to download it!

The best way of staying safe though, is simply to be very aware and extremely suspicious when online, as you would be with anyone you don't know in normal dealings (I.e., on the phone). Clicking on links in emails is the no.1 way of getting infected!

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