Roving reporter Kate looks at some basic ways to stay safe on the net.
When your parents or friends start warbling on about being safe on the internet, your brain loses focus, your eyes droop and you tend to zone out. Current affairs programs flood us with the latest horror stories: identity theft, paedophilia, stalkers... But there's little chance that these things could actually happen to you, right?
You're probably right, but exercising a bit of common sense and caution when surfing the net doesn't have to be a huge pain. Just follow these quick tips to be a net-smart surfer.
Social networking sites and chat programs
MySpace, Facebook, MSN - they're all great ways to stay in touch with your friends, meet people and share memories. But everything you put on the net is not necessarily only available to your friends. Anyone may be able to view you and your friends' information, photos and comments and do whatever they want with them.
Here's a few tips for keeping your personal information private:
- Don't enter your last name in your details
- Limit your profile viewing permission to "friends only"
- Never give out your phone number, address or where you go to school
- Never give out your password to anyone - make your password-recovery question one that only you will know (e.g. your most embarrassing moment, your secret crush, your worst fear)
- Don't display information about your friends which you wouldn't display about yourself - your friends' safety is your responsibility, too
- Avoid meeting people in person who you've only ever met online - that girl you've been chatting to who looks gorgeous in her photo might not be who she says she is - she might not even be a 'she'
Your blog is one in a pool of 71 million. But pouring your heart out about your private life and posting it on the net can have dire consequences. Anything you write in a blog may be found, copied and stored - even if you delete it later. And if the person who finds your blog is your parents, friends or boss, you may find yourself in deep water.
Here's a few tips for safe, pain-free blogging:
- Use a fake name for yourself and the people you refer to (like John Smith or Mr/Ms X)
- Think before writing something that you wouldn't want your friends, co-workers or parents to see
- If your blog host has privacy features, use them
We've all seen those annoying pop-up boxes or e-mails with messages along the lines of: "You've won an iPod!", "Find the monkey to win $5000", "Your computer may be infected - scan now", "If you don't pass this on, no one will ever kiss you... ever!", "Little Timmy has cancer. Give us money for his operation". These are hoaxes.
All of these seem either too good - or too bad - to be true and they're simply fake. Hoaxes are often companies or individuals seeking your personal information, bank details or wanting to infect your computer with a virus.
What they offer rarely eventuates, even if they shower you in raves from happy free-iPod-owners or people whose crush finally noticed them because they passed on a message. Avoid them at all costs.
Here's a few tips for avoiding internet hoaxes:
- Download a pop-up blocker to block annoying advertisements. Most browsers come with a pop-up blocker already installed, but make sure you activate it in your options or preferences
- Download an e-mail filter to block spam
- If you receive an email with an attachment from someone you don't know, delete it - it's not worth taking the risk
- Don't give out your details unless you are sure of the receiver's credibility and that they should have access to these details
- Be sceptical - if it looks dodgy, head for the "X" button
Viruses and spyware
Viruses are rude guests. They don't usually say hello, and you don't even know they're there until they've trashed the place (think of mysteriously deleted files and a computer which won't start). They're files which install themselves when you visit a website, when you open an email or when you install a downloaded program. Removing a virus from an unprotected computer is often a time-consuming or costly experience.
Spyware is a similar kind of guest, except it reports back to its boss about what it sees when it visits. Spyware is created by companies or individuals seeking information about which websites you visit, what kinds of files are on your computer and who you send emails to. Often spyware is not dangerous, but it slows down your computer by clogging up space and memory.
Here's a few tips for avoiding viruses and spyware:
- Install anti-virus software and update it - new and more dangerous viruses emerge every day and that software you installed a few months ago won't protect you against these unless it is updated
- Install a spyware remover and run it every week or so - activate its protection features so the task won't be so tedious next time
- Delete emails with attachments from people you don't know, or those whose subject lines look dodgy ("Surprise for you" may in fact be a nasty one)
Dangers do lurk on the internet, but that doesn’t mean you have to unplug the computer, throw it out the window and return to telephones and newspapers for your communication needs. The golden rule is to always remember that whatever you do on the internet is capable of being seen by anyone. Keep this in mind when you’re surfing the net and your experience is more likely to be how it should be - safe and fun!
The content of these stories and articles are provided for information and entertainment purposes only. The views expressed are those of our roving reporters/editorial team members and do not necessarily reflect those of the Victorian Government. While every endeavour is made to ensure the currency, accuracy and authenticity of content, it can not be guaranteed. The Victorian Government does not accept any liabilities for any loss, damage, cost or expense you or others might incur as a result of the information or advice (or the use of it) on this website or in the articles. People using the site should undertake responsibility for assessing the relevance and accuracy of its content.