Safe Surfing

By Robert F. Bornstein, PhD and Mary A. Languirand, PhD

The internet is a treasure trove of information, but it is also a haven for evil-doers intent on stealing your personal information (and more). The same characteristics of the internet that make it so appealing-its openness and ease of access-also make those of us who use it vulnerable to cyber-attack.

Building the sort of electronic fortress that makes your computer 100% safe would require so much effort and caution on your part that web browsing would lose much of its appeal. Still, there are things you can do to make internet use safer. A bit of caution goes a long way. So take the time to….

  • Create effective passwords

    The two things that matter most are complexity and length (so NarfgtX! is better than mary1). Avoid things like your birthdate, your maiden name, and the name of your street as passwords; all are easy for intruders to find. It's also wise to vary your password, rather than using the same one for all password-protected sites. And resist the urge to create a Word file with all your password information and leave it on your desktop; there are malicious programs out there capable to invading your computer and accessing that information (even when your computer is turned off).
  • Choose "secret questions" carefully

    You might think that using one like "Where did you go to high school" is safe, but there's so much information floating around on the web that this is likely to be obtainable with little difficulty. (Do you really think your high school doesn't have an online list of alumni out there somewhere?) Better to use a more personal question, like "What's your favorite hobby?" or "What is your favorite color?"
  • Use anti-virus software

    A good free one is AVG (be sure to download the free version rather than the more elaborate version that has extra bells and whistles, but also involves a monthly fee). You can download AVG from their website,
  • Be skeptical

    If you receive an email from a source you don't recognize, delete it. Ditto for emails from people you know, but which arrive with something weird-or nothing at all-in the Subject line (some software programs can hijack people's browsers and send spam, or worse, to everyone in the address list). If you receive an email from an official-looking source (like the IRS) that asks for private information, don't provide it (the IRS never contacts people via email). If you receive an email from your bank or credit card company asking you to click on a link to a web site, don't do it. Instead call your bank and ask if the email was real, or go directly to the credit card company's website (not through the email link) and enter the website that way.
  • Secure your wireless network

    We know, it's a pain, but if you have a wireless network at home, password-protect it. Be extra cautious when using public wireless networks (like those in coffee shops and train stations); these are appropriate places to read the news online, but not to check your bank account.

Robert Bornstein and Mary Languirand are the authors of When Someone You Love Needs Nursing Home, Assisted Living, or In Home Care, published by Newmarket Press. The second edition, revised and updated, was recently released. Here's the link: