According to a 2009 study conducted by cNet News the average American spends approximately thirteen hours online each week. (Link) Most of our browsing is safe; opening an email, refreshing a website, and viewing search results. On the other hand, we know not to click on that link to help out an oppressed prince from a foreign country, the personal email from Bill Gates, or the chat invite from CuteBikerGal227.
What about the things we find online that fall between what we know is safe and know to be dangerous?
The emails from a good friend with a strange attachment, or a software update that pops up on your screen, an email from your bank with a link to update your info, how do we know if these are safe? Sometimes it can be hard to tell and easy to make a mistake.
This can all be prevented with good anti-virus software and a “better safe than sorry” policy. EarthLink members have several choices for anti-virus software programs, which can learn more about in the member’s center (http://www.earthlink.net/membercenter/staysafe.faces). Keeping you safe and protected is a commitment of ours, and we do a lot behind the scenes to block spam and keep you safe. By adding anti-virus programs, you can increase that protection.
Anti-virus software typically comes with an added firewall to block hackers from getting access to your computer, and, when kept up to date, can help to protect you from spyware, viruses and worms. Anti-virus software will often warn you before or when you click something that it views as potentially dangerous. In the absence of such warnings, here are some safety measures that you should consider:
Check URLs carefully. Let’s say you bank at Peter’s Bank and you know without question that http://www.petersbank.com is the URL for the bank. Let’s say the bad guys decide to send out emails that look like they come from Peter’s Bank. They have Peter’s Bank logos and colors and look official. They spend a lot of time trying to fool people thinking the message is legitimate. But the link they ask you to click is http://petersbank.banksecurity1.com. This practice is called “spoofing”, and the site you’re going to is not Peter’s Bank, but is www.banksecurity1.com – who knows who runs that operation, but it’s certainly not one you do business with (or want to).
If a link on a web page or email doesn’t immediately look recognizable or safe to you, you’re better off typing the legitimate address into the address bar at the top of your internet browser than clicking on the suspicious link. The suspicious link may launch malware on your computer or take you to a phisher site. So if the link looks like it’s going to Peter’s Bank but is something like www.petersbankco.com you should type in www.petersbank.com, which you know is valid.
Be Cautious with Email Attachments – When a good friend tells you he’s going to email you a recipe and then you get an email with an attachment called recipe.doc, you’re probably safe. However, when a stranger sends you an email with an attachment, don’t click on it. Even some emails from friends and family may have attachments with viruses, if their computer has been infected. If you aren’t sure what the attachment is, you should call and ask before opening it.