In this summary of Internet highlights, some useful tips on avoiding scams and staying secure online. Some of this may sound obvious, but we hear feedback from people who aren’t so confident using the Internet, so this is a straightforward introduction to safe surfing, with some links to great free tools to protect you while you enjoy the web.
Question: Which of these e-mails is actually legitimate?
- Send this message on to ten of your friends and Microsoft will track them and pay you!
- Send this e-mail on to as many people as you can and AOL will track them and donate a dollar for each e-mail to help this sick baby
- ALERT: new virus – destroys your computer. Forward this message to everyone you know!
- Send this e-mail on to ten of your best friends and you will have good luck. Delete it and your ears will fall off, your nose will turn green, no-one will talk to you and you will be haunted by a faint smell of fish for the rest of your days.
Answer: None of them – and yet people send these messages on to everyone in their address books with gay abandon on a regular basis. Microsoft, AOL and the like cannot track e-mails. No donations are made. No money will be showing up in your bank account any time soon. Most virus warnings sent by e-mail are hoaxes, and even if they aren’t, as long as your anti-virus software is updated every day, you have little to worry about. Finally, sending e-mails to all and sundry with an endless list of saccharine truisms about friendship or the secret for happy living does little more than irritate everyone that gets the message. A true friend shouldn’t be offended if you ask them to stop sending you rubbish!
The next time you receive such a message, here are some websites you can check to see if a message is authentic:
- Snopes Urban Legends – the Inbox Rebellion section contains popular e-mail scams
- About Urban Legends – revealing the truth behind one-eyed kittens and more ‘mysteries’ of the Internet
- A quick search on Google often tells you straight away if an e-mail is legitimate
- McAfee and Symantec both have extensive lists of virus hoaxes, before there is any need to start panicking and throwing your computer out of the window.
While most of these e-mails are harmless annoyances, some are more ominous in nature; phishing is a popular way to defraud people of money by demanding bank account or card details disguised as a bank, viruses are rife in e-mail, and spam (unsolicited e-mail) still accounts for half of all e-mail traffic, selling suspicious goods from herbal viagra to commodity stocks.
Here are some essential tools we recommend for preventing problems and staying safe online:
- ZoneAlarm – a free firewall program. Firewalls act like guard dogs for your computer, preventing unauthorised people from accessing your computer and leaving malicious software on it, or stealing your data. All computers with broadband connections should have a firewall installed, and ZoneAlarm is the best free firewall going.
- Ad Aware – this program scans your computer for spyware – software left on your computer by websites designed to monitor your activities online. This program is again free, simple to use, and the best at what it does.
- AVG Anti-Virus – another free program that provides excellent anti-virus protection for your computer. Always have anti-virus installed, and check for updates at least once a week, ideally every day.
- Cloudmark Desktop – this software, available for a fifteen day trial and then costing around £25 per year, is the best solution available for capturing and quarantining spam and phishing e-mails.
- Firefox – a safer, faster alternative to the buggy and insecure Internet Explorer for browsing the Internet. Firefox is also free!
Be good, BCC
Of course, a lot of messages are valid, useful and safe, and you may wish to send them on to your contacts. If you do send a message to a group of people, use Blind Carbon Copy or BCC in your e-mail program to ensure that all of your recipients e-mail addresses are concealed from one another.
- To view your BCC box in Microsoft Outlook, click ‘View’ in your new message and choose ‘BCC field’
- To view your BCC box in Outlook Express, click ‘View’ in your new message and choose ‘All headers’.
Get in touch with any queries, meanwhile, happy and safe surfing!