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When using the Internet it is essential to take precautions. Although the advent of email and the Internet has resulted in unprecedented advances in communication, education, entertainment, shopping and commerce, there are a number of risks you should be aware of, and protect yourself against.
The biggest risks when simply browsing the Internet are programs downloading themselves onto your computer, and insecure or fake sites.
Programs downloading themselves onto your computer
The vast majority of websites are safe and will not install anything onto your computer. The best defence against this is to install a firewall and use your common sense. A firewall is almost like a protective barrier around your computer that will not let anything unauthorised slip through onto your PC without your knowledge. If something tries to slip through the firewall will ask you if you want to install the program or not. As a rule of thumb be very wary when installing anything on your computer. Programs from reputable sources such as Google, Yahoo, or the BBC for instance will be fine, but if you have never heard of the program, do not install it and do some research about it first to see what other people say about it.
If a pop-up appears on a site when you are browsing stating 'Your PC is infected, click here to clean it' or something along these lines, ignore it, it is a fake warning trying to encourage you to download a program onto your PC. Only pay attention to messages from a proper virus checker (see below) that you have installed on your PC.
Windows XP comes with a built-in firewall that you should ensure is kept up-to-date. If you see a yellow shield in your start bar, this indicates an update is available, click the shield to download the update. Free firewalls are available to download, but again, make sure you research a program to ensure it is legitimate. One reputable and free firewall is called ZoneAlarm from Zone Labs.
There are some great resources for children to help them discover, create and connect with other children worldwide. The internet is useful, fun and educational. Used safely, it's a valuable tool .
Some tips to stay safe online:
Email is the most common route for unscrupulous programs to install themselves on your PC, or for fraudsters to entice personal details from you. The types of emails you may receive are as follows;
If you receive an email from someone you don't know, don't open it and delete it. If you have a firewall, emails coming in to your computer should be scanned for viruses, although even if you know the person sending you an email, never open an attachment that you are not sure about.
Never click on any email advertising something to buy, and certainly never buy anything from a company who has sent a spam email. These emails often originate from criminal gangs, and people clicking on their messages or buying their products only serve to encourage more messages generally, and personally to your inbox. Emails from legitimate sites that you have registered on are OK however.
People often receive emails from people in other countries who claim to have inherited vast sums and 'need your help to invest it'. There are many variations on this theme, but they all are after the same thing - your bank details or your cash. Do not respond to these emails, just delete them.
Emails can sometimes pretend to be from your bank, or from a large company, when in fact they are not. Spelling mistakes or poor English usually give them away. Links to unusual web addresses are also a sure sign they are fake (see the 'Safe Surfing' section above). If you are not sure, delete it. If it is genuinely from your bank and it is important, they wouldn't use email to communicate with you, and no bank will ever ask you to confirm your login details.
Chain emails from friends are often seen as harmless or fun, but can actually clog up the Internet with meaningless messages. Emails that say you'll receive good or bad luck by passing the email on are nonsense, and another common type of chain email states that a big company is tracking the email and will give x amount of money to charity for every email sent. Again these are nonsense and should be deleted.
The types of programs that can sometimes make their way onto your computer include key-loggers (programs that record details you type, including bank and credit card details), ad-serving programs (that keep popping up adverts for unsavoury goods and services), and bot-programs (that use your computer to send spam and virus programs to other people around the world).
You should install a virus checker and scan your computer on a regular basis. If your firewall is a protective barrier around your PC, the job of your virus checker is to sweep through the inside of your barrier ejecting anything that shouldn't be there. You may choose to pay for a virus checking program, although free tools are available. Again, make sure you research virus checking programs to ensure they are reputable. An example of a free and reputable virus checking program is Ad-Aware by Lavasoft.
Communication and meeting new people is one of the benefits of using the Internet, but when talking with strangers via email, chatrooms, forums or instant messaging, you should never give out personal information. If you ever decided to meet anyone you have met online you should also take the necessary precautions, however long you have been communicating with them. Meet in a public place in daylight, maybe take a friend, and let people know where/when you are going and who you are meeting.