Get Safe Online – How To Identify If You’re At Risk Online!

by Guest Author on November 18, 2010

in Guest Posts, Guides/How-To, Security, Social Media, Software

Problem: Suspect e-mails and attachments

Most people are aware of the dangers of opening e-mail attachments from unknown senders; a security risk that received a lot of press when e-mailing became ever more essential to our day to day lives. Opening an e-mail attachment sometimes involves running executable code that could be used to install a virus or malware on a system without the user’s knowledge, and in terms of risk levels it’s still up there with the most dangerous around. There is now additional concern surrounding the simple opening of the e-mails themselves, since code such as ActiveX controls and Javascripts can be embedded into messages and run automatically when they are viewed.


The most important piece of advice we can offer is to never open email attachments unless you know the person that has sent you the email and have a good idea of what the attachment might be. This is far from foolproof however, so a solid antivirus suite like Bullguard Version 10 that can protect against files that contain malicious code is still essential, and a good spam filter will help both block these sorts of mails and allow you to manually choose to block all future emails that may have slipped through the net if you suspect them to be malicious. This is also the safest way to protect against e-mails that contain embedded code and a good suite should filter these out before they even reach your inbox.

Problem: Surfing traditionally “suspect” or untrusted websites

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the types of websites that are most likely to contain malicious code via downloads or present a threat through registration are “suspect” sources that promote things such as gambling or access to pornography. While sometimes legitimate, requests to install a software component in order to use the service are common and present a good opportunity for writers of malicious code to access a computer.


As always, solid security software that includes key components such as safe browsing, anti-phishing and regularly updated anti-virus and firewall is the safest bet in terms of avoiding infection. Since this type of threat is often manifested by “secondary” users of a computer, such as employees or children, features that block access to dangerous sites in the first place, are an excellent way to prevent websites that may contain unsuitable or malicious content from being viewed in the first place.

Problem: Social networking or social access websites

Though this would typically fall under the realm of “common sense” in the real world, it’s far too tempting to share personal or company information on social websites such as Facebook or LinkedIn. This isn’t nearly as big an issue towards personal security in terms of a malicious user gaining access to a computer as some of the other threats that exist, but is a serious issue in terms of the fact that you don’t know who may be privy to what can often be a wealth of personal and/or sensitive data.


Vigilance is the key here, and it’s safe to say that if you’d consider any information included on a profile, sent in a chat window or submitted via mail to be sensitive enough to be detrimental if read by the “wrong” party, don’t provide it. Unlike sending a letter or having a conversation in the real world, anything posted online could “potentially” be read by any other user if they can gain access to your profile, and once it is out there it’s out there: what’s fun today might be an embarrassment in 5 years time, when you’re applying for a job.

Problem: Installing suspect applications

Often when browsing the internet a website may request that you install a piece of software in order to continue viewing or use a service. A common and particularly dangerous practice involves informing the user that their computer may be infected and that they must download a particular piece of software to clean it up.

Unfortunately there are many legitimate downloads that can enhance an online experience, for example updating a Java component or installing a proprietary media player applet, so it’s not practical to say “avoid downloading anything”, but it’s often difficult to be sure how safe a request actually is.


First and foremost you should be aware of exactly what is being downloaded and what its purpose is. Those with a fair bit of experience online will be able to identify right away whether the request is suspect or reasonable, but if you’re unsure a fair rule of thumb is never to download anything unless you were expecting to need a software package or update to view a site or use a service. The best way to avoid taking a chance in this environment is to install security software that includes safe browsing and anti-phishing components, along with a pop-up blocker. These can alert users if sites contain malicious code and if something does slip through, firewall, anti-virus and anti-malware tools should block any changes to a computer before a file can cause damage.

Problem: Public wi-fi networks

It’s becoming ever more common, particularly for business users, to connect to public wi-fi networks in order to take advantage of high speeds on the move. Unfortunately this can leave users at the risk of hackers also accessing this network gaining access to your computer, either to steal sensitive data or infect it with a virus or malware.


The benefits of wireless network access are significant so it’s not practical to advise users to avoid connecting to networks they are unfamiliar with. The safest defence is to ensure that a reputable, up to date firewall is installed, but itís also important to remember to disable wireless access on a computer when you’re not working online. This also goes for alternatives such as Bluetooth on all portable devices and by ensuring that both these avenues are covered you’re far less likely to be at risk.

Guest post by: Iain Miller is a technology and travel blogger with an unhealthy interest in poker and dreams of making it big in Vegas. He has been working in marketing for the past two years and has recently been promoting Bullguard.

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