Simple Online Safety Guide

This article is a simple overview of spyware and infections and a common sense guide to staying safe.   Mostly for Windows users, but the same principals apply to ALL computing.

eWeek: Exposing How Rogue Antivirus Sites Snag Victims

Some general safety rules to follow when surfing.
1. Never install a program from a web site unless it was something you were specifically looking for. Lots of sites want you to download their utilities such as browser tool bars (google bar, yahoo bar), monitoring utility (weather bug, mail reminders), and website tools (coupon printers, activeX controls). These almost always are some form of spyware. For instance, the Google toolbar reports all of your activity back to Google. Other tools may change your search tools or preferences. They can slow down your browser or computer. DON'T!
2. Never install a codec (plays an audio or video file) or other plugin from a site says that you need it to view a video or listen to media. These are programs as well and can do anything to your machine.
3. Install flash player, shockwave, acrobat reader and other plugins only from the original site. If a site offers to install it for you, refuse. It possible to be a 'modified' version.
4. If you browse to a web site then have a popup appear about virus or problem - DO NOT CLICK ANY BUTTON OFFERED. Use your browser close window/button. Hit <ESC> if it is a dialog window. Several spywares have deliberately mislabeled the buttons to trick you into agreeing when you are trying to cancel. Remember, the message can be engineered to lie.
5. Use anti-spyware and anti-virus from a reliable source. Your ISP usually provides one free for your home machine. If not, a good free antivirus is and a good anti-spyware is Any website offering online scanning is most likely infecting your machine.
6. Make sure your spyware and virus scanners are up to date. Most allow you to schedule automatic updates and automatic scanning. My machines at home are scheduled to update nightly (2-3 am) then run a full scan with automatic clean about 1/2 hour later. If they find anything, they automatically email me so i don't have to review each machine.

7. Make sure your computer is up to date.  Windows, Browser, Plugins.  This should be a regular routine like paying your bills.   You don't do it and ....  Updates are not that complicated.  If you don't know how to do them,  ask a 'Techie' how to do it.   Make notes so you can repeat the steps monthly.

8. Think.   Practical Online security is not much different that traveling around town.  Read the warning and privacy policies.  You don't hand your wallet to a stranger then wonder why they took your credit card.  Generally if someone is offering you something,  they want something in return.   This is not always bad.  For instance,  Google trades advertisements for the ability to find just about anything on the web.  

9.  Know a sites terms of services.   If not clear, ask them and keep the email replies.   One picture sharing site wanted me to sign up with an agreement that I would purchase or upload pics.  I planned to do neither so I did not join.  My life didn't end :)

10.  Know about copyright and licensing.   RIAA often agressively protects content online.  That song you heard on the radio and found for 'free' on a website might get you in trouble if you share it around.   Other organizations such as Creative Commons promote ways to publish and share music.  If in doubt, don't share it. Ask the site or look for a notice.  Softwareis the same.  There are lots of copyright software with organizations such as the BSA that will go after you if you share programs.  Others promote sharing such as Free Software Foundation promote shareable software.


If your interested in how security works in a browser see How Encryption Works.

If you are interested in tracking and what you can do see Lifehacker Tracking