Hi everyone! Dave here…
This post doesn’t have anything to do with the usual content of this website, but I wanted to share the information as a courtesy to my visiting friends. I hope this may prove very helpful for some of you.
The Internet can provide a great utility for finding information, entertainment and communicating with friends and family. Unfortunately, the Internet can also be a very dangerous place and, too often, people don’t realize how dangerous. Computer viruses come out by the thousands each day and then there are all kinds of other security issues you have to watch out for. If a person is not careful, they can find their machine infected with things like malware, adware, spyware, etc. If you don’t know what all those things are, the simplest answer is that they are not good for your machine. Some websites have scripts installed in the page to track your browsing habits, target you with advertising, or -even worse- infect your machine with viruses that steal your personal information (credit card numbers, passwords, social security numbers, etc.) or even damage your operating system so that it runs slow or stops working altogether. If you don’t take steps to protect yourself and prevent this kind of activity, it is almost a guarantee that it will happen to you.
Even web authors like myself have to take some precautions when setting up a website, because other malicious entities can actually try to take advantage of an insecure site and exploit it. This is especially difficult with sites that allow visitors to leave comments (like this one does) because even that utility can be exploited for malicious purposes. Currently, I have a number of programs installed on my webserver that work proactively to guard against things like e-mail addresses being stolen, spam comments or advertising being posted on the site, etc. So far, so good… I try to do everything I can to make sure this website is secure as possible, but it’s always best if the folks browsing take steps on their own to make double sure they are safe while browsing the Web.
Having a good anti-virus program installed is a good start. If you don’t have one, check the downloads page of this site; there are some fantastic free ones available (which I also use myself)! But anti-virus alone won’t always protect you against every threat. Phishing is one example. While some anti-virus programs are pretty good at warning you of this threat, often times phishing sites are missed by AV software. What is phishing? Basically, it’s when a malicious website or e-mail tries to trick you into giving up your personal information. Often times these come through e-mail with a warning that something is wrong with your bank account. They generally provide a link for you to click on and, when you visit the link, the website looks just like your bank’s website. When you go to input your user-name and password, you discover that it’s not really your bank’s site at all and by that time they’ve already stolen your login information and possibly worse. The best defense against phishing is to NEVER reply to an e-mail that asks for your personal information and NEVER login to a page that you reached by clicking a link in e-mail. Legitimate, safe organizations will NEVER ask you for your personal information, user-name or password through e-mail. If you have a concern or suspicion, just pick up the phone and call your bank or the organization in question directly. Don’t trust the e-mail!
Also, avoid passing along those e-mails that claim to be petitions for one cause or another and which ask you to add your name to the list and then forward it. Just hit delete! While those types of e-mails are not always malicious, they may compromise your privacy and they don’t work anyway. None of those types of petitions are legitimate and you’re just wasting your time by passing them on. Don’t take a chance… just delete them.
Another recent kind of Internet threat is called ClickJacking. This generally affects people who frequent social networking websites like Facebook. Facebook can be a great resource for connecting with friends and family (I use it myself), but you need to be careful. The newest Facebook threat tricks users into “liking” a page within Facebook, then suggests that page to your friends. The “liked” page may contain malicious links to non-secure sites outside of Facebook. It also damages the security of your reputation by posting to your profile that you “liked” this page, when in reality you never did. These can often be hard to detect.
Fortunately, there are some great things you can do to help make your browsing experience more secure… and, best of all, they won’t cost you anything! There are a few things I use to help secure my browser and I’ll share them with you. The first is to use a different Internet browser besides Internet Explorer (which comes with Windows). Internet Explorer isn’t a terrible browser, but there are others more secure. There are several great browsers out there (and I use several of them for different reasons), but my recommendation is Mozilla Firefox for ultimate security. First of all it’s free and free is good! Second, it’s much more secure, has more cool features, and is a bit faster than Microsoft’s stock browser. Third, FireFox allows the user to install “addons” to enhance the browsing experience and security. I use a lot of different addons but, for security, I have three favorites. They are called Web of Trust (WOT), AdBlock Plus, and NoScript.
Web Of Trust is a user supported service that marks virtually every link in your search results with a colored mark according to it’s level of trust by other users. For example, if a page has been rated by users as being unsafe for children or perhaps has a bad security reputation, the link will have a red circle next to it. That means BAD! If you still try to click on the click, the page will have a notice covering it, warning you that the site has been rated as unsafe. You then have the choice to either continue to site and rate it yourself, or close it to avoid any problems. WOT doesn’t actually stop viruses, but it helps you make decisions before clicking on things. If a site is regarded as safe by a lot of people, it will have a green circle next to it. A yellow circle means, exercise caution… A gray circle means there have not been enough votes yet. The great thing about WOT is that it also allows you to rate the pages you visit. If you have a good experience, you can give your own rating and thus help improve the overall ratings in the system. It works very well and I rely on this addon quite a bit.
AdBlock Plus is another fantastic and totally free FireFox addon! It simply removes virtually all of the annoying adds on a website. For example, if you’ve ever visited MySpace, you know that it is wholly ad supported. There are banners at the top and sometimes the bottom or sides. Sometimes the ads aren’t necessarily something you’d feel comfortable with your children (or you for that matter) seeing… I especially can’t stand the ones that flash annoyingly or make loud sounds. AdBlock Plus is great because it simply blocks all of them from loading in the first place. What you’re left with is just the website without all the crap flashing around it! On very rare occasions it misses an ad, but 99% of the time it works perfectly!
Finally, NoScript is a great and totally free addon for FireFox! I just discovered this one today. Websites often use code called scripts for a lot of different reasons. TruthForFree.com uses scripts to enhance your browsing experiences. For example, when you visit the music page on this site, it’s actually a script running on the page that enables you to click on the song links and have them play instantly in your browser. Scripts are used for a lot of very beneficial things… Unfortunately, some websites use scripts for malicious purposes and they can infect your machine just by visiting the page and clicking on something. NoScript helps in this regard because it instantly blocks ALL scripts running on a page when you visit it. This is particularly effective in protecting against things like ClickJacking. The way NoScript works is, once the website loads, you must click on the bar at the bottom of your screen (or on the NoScript button) to either allow or continue to block the scripts on the page. If you do nothing, all scripts are automatically blocked. If you know the site is safe and you trust it (such as this one, truthforfree.com), then you can allow just that website so scripts aren’t blocked in the future. Of course, if you ever change your mind you can always block a site you’ve previously allowed again. Below is a short YouTube video that explains how NoScript works.
These are just a few of the programs freely available that can help keep your identity secure and your computer free of infections. If you’re not very computer savvy, I realize that this can sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo. If you have a friend or family member that is good with computers, give them a call and see if they will help you. Share this e-mail with them. Most computer shops can help with this stuff too and most are probably already familiar with some of these suggestions. Of course, different folks have different opinions on which programs are better to use. These are just my personal recommendations.
If your computer already seems to be very slow, you my want to check out Google’s free browser called Chrome. It is probably the fastest browser I have ever used, though it doesn’t work on some websites and is a little light on features. I am happy to say that TruthForFree.com works great with Google Chrome! Chrome also allows the use of addons, which it calls “Extensions“. WOT and AdBlock Plus are both available for use in Chrome, but NoScript is not yet available. However, on the positive, Chrome does have anti-phishing and malware protection built-in AND you can adjust the settings to block scripts and java on websites too (just not quite as easily as with a program like NoScripts).
Okay, that’s probably enough techno-babble for today. 🙂 I just wanted to encourage you guys to stay safe out there and don’t get taken advantage of. God bless and have an awesome weekend!!!