Ever get that tech support call from your parents saying, "My computer is slow all of a sudden" or "I have all sorts of weird things popping up on my screen"? You then troubleshoot the problems only to find out that malware, spyware, viruses or other such nastiness is the culprit. To be sure you eradicate all the bugs you resort to a full format and reinstall of everything thus taking you hours. If you've been there, done that here are five basic security tips to provide to your parents that, if followed, are sure to credit you back hours of your time.
I bet I'm not the only one who provides some tech support services to their family members, especially to your parents. We don't mind providing the help, heck sometimes its even fun doing the forensics right? But for you and your parents it would obviously be better if the bugs never found their way onto the computer in the first place. The generational technology knowledge gap between our senior citizens and their offspring is the largest we've ever experienced in the history of mankind. It is also unlikely that humans will experience another such generational tech knowledge gap in the next few hundred years. Technology, at least in the developed world, is now an important, engrained part of our culture and likely to remain so in the future. So, recognizing that we are in a unique place in human history do your part to help bridge the gap through education and awareness.
Here are five basic things that if passed on and followed by your parents will make their online experience more secure:
1) Purchase, and keep updated, an all-in-one PC security software suite. There are several companies to choose from and the decision can be a bit overwhelming. In a nutshell there is little difference between the top vendors in the market. It is kind of like going out to buy a new dishwashing, sure they all have different bells and whistles but they all do a great job at washing the dishes. Any of the vendors on this list will provide you with what you need http://support.microsoft.com/kb/49500 If you want a free one that works just great then download Microsoft's security essentials software here: http://www.microsoft.com/security_essentials/
2) Setup and periodically check to make sure your PC is auto updating itself and the major programs that are running on it. Keeping your PC up to date with the latest security fixes is one of the best prevention mechanisms you have available to you. Never allow a program or website to stop or change your windows update settings. Your PC will alert you if this is attempted, so always deny the request no matter how legitimate the request seems to you. If your PC runs Windows then go here to setup or make sure your setup correctly: http://update.microsoft.com
3) Never, ever for any reason open up an email or chat attachment from someone you don't know. Remember that over 90% of all email traffic worldwide is spam. E-mail spam is unwanted e-mail messages, frequently with commercial or malicious content, in large quantities to an indiscriminate set of recipients. Said another way, up to 90% of all the emails sent to you are junk or malevolent mail. The good news is that almost all email providers (Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.) supply free email filtering for your mailbox. This is why you don't see a deluge of hundreds and hundreds of unwanted email in your inbox. The bad news is that no email filtering service is 100% effective so some of the bad email will slip through periodically to you.
4) Treat an email from someone you don't know just like you would treat a letter sent from someone you know doesn't like you. In other words always start out by thinking the emailer is out to do you potential harm. By acting in this way, you are sure to put up your guard and deal with each unknown email sender with a very healthy dose of skepticism and mistrust. Remember that email scammers are very good at what they do, the emails they send look very real and convincing. Treat all unknown senders with the same elevated level of doubt to increase the chances you wont be their next victim. Oh, and never give believe someone asking for your personal information, account information or credit card information via an email message or a link in an email message. Legitimate companies will never ask for this information in this way. When in doubt call the company to make sure; but don't trust any phone numbers presented in the email look them up on the web instead.
5) No matter how tempting it looks don't ever click on a link to a website that was given to you from someone you don't know. Just by visiting a website your computer can become severely infected with malware. If you really want to know more about the company that sent you the email then go to your favorite search engine (google, yahoo, etc.) and type in the company information there. Then click on the links that are returned via the search engine not the links you were given. The reason for this tactic is that many times the bad guys will send you links that look legitimate and even the sites that they take you to look real. But the reality is they are all very good fakes designed to steal things from you (like your credit card number perhaps). You wouldn't buy a sparkling diamond from some guy on the street right? Think of web links sent from untrusted people in the same way.
As you can see, when it comes right down to it, keeping yourself safe online is more about how you interact with the Internet and email than it is about buying products to protect you. The best protection you have against the bad guys is your knowledge of defensive techniques like the ones I listed above.
The opinions and information presented here are my PERSONAL views and not those of my employer. I am in no way an official spokesperson for my employer.
This story, "What to Tell Mom and Dad About Computer Security" was originally published by Network World.