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Protecting against internet security risks


Day to day internet use does not only revolve around social networking, e-commerce or web surfing. From time to time it is desirable to share data with others, download content from the web or subscribe to services which send files to your computer. It is important to understand what the implications of these activities are and how best to protect yourself against unwanted computer access while downloading and sharing computer data.

  • Firewalls

    Firewalls can block all traffic between the internet and a computer that is not explicitly allowed, preventing unauthorised access to data. A firewall provides protection from viruses, spyware, spam as well as protecting personal identifying information and personal data stored on a computer.

    Having a firewall permanently turned is the first line of defence against viruses, spyware and hackers.

    Most operating systems provide a firewall as part of a basic security set-up. Commercially available security software such as anti-virus and anti-virus software programs may also include a personal firewall option.

  • Safer file sharing

    File sharing is the sharing of digital information like computer programs, audio or video files, documents or electronic books with others across the internet. The most commonly shared files are pirated music, movies and computer software. Most file sharing is conducted over the internet using peer-to-peer (P2P) networks.

    P2P is an application that runs on a personal computer and shares files, such as music files, with other users across the internet. P2P networks work by connecting individual computers together directly to share files instead of having to go through a central server. P2P networking is popular with children as the software is usually free, easy to install and gives access to many files that would otherwise be too difficult or too expensive to obtain. Some file-sharing software enables people to chat online while they share.

    File sharing can be safe if legal services and appropriate e-security measures are used.

    P2P file sharing enables users some access to each other’s systems. The level of access will vary depending on the user’s knowledge of and use of appropriate security settings. Less savvy users may be providing access to all aspects of their computer system, not just the music or movie files they are sharing.

    Some files in P2P networks have misleading labels to hide the true nature of the content. This means that children might download something that appears innocent, only to find it is inappropriate for them. P2P networks may also be used to distribute child sexual abuse materials or to attempt to make contact with children. Parents should be especially wary of software that enables children to chat with other people sharing files.

  • Safer download of files, music and videos

    Downloading is the process of saving a file from the internet onto a computer. The most common way to download is to click on a link that will begin the download automatically. A dialogue box will appear prompting the user to choose a computer location to ‘Save’ the file. Selecting Save will begin the process.

    Downloading is an increasingly popular activity on the internet and for many people, downloading music and video is the main attraction of using the web. Many students download documents such as fact sheets for school assignments as well as music and movies.

    Download of files, music and videos does not have to be illegal. There are many legal sources offering music, movies and other information for download. Some are free while others have a fee per service or an ongoing subscription fee.

    One issue to consider may be potential download limits within your internet contract. It is important before downloading to check your internet download limit, current download level and how much any excess charges will be. Many illegal download websites also carry the risk of viruses. Ask friends or family about reliable and legal websites for downloading.

    The following practical tips will help parents manage the risks of downloading.

    Young Children

    Downloading is unlikely to be an issue for younger children who may not have the opportunity, or knowledge to download media like music or videos. If children are online the following general tips are a good starting point to help them be safe and responsible. It is useful to consider the following tips.

    1. Consider using filters, labels and safe zones to help manage your child’s online access.
    2. Install and update anti-virus and other e-security software to restrict unauthorised access to data on the home computer and protect that data from corruption.
    3. Ensure that security features including a firewall are turned on, set to automatic scan and updated regularly to protect against the latest risks.

    Older Children

    Downloading can start to be a risk for older children who are interested in downloading media files such as music, TV shows, movies and ring tones. The following tips can be used to help you to guide your child.

    1. Talk with your child about the potential risks of using unsafe websites to download and share files, including the risk of infecting the home computer with viruses, the potential costs and the legalities of breaching copyright.
    2. If you want to teach your child about downloading use a reliable and legal media download sites, these should be clear from the terms and conditions or can be found through web searches or other sources of authority.
    3. If you are unsure about other safe or legal websites to use ask around—word of mouth from friends and family is a good way to identify reliable download sources.
    4. If you are comfortable with your child using download sites that charge for use you might consider visiting your preferred websites with them and checking the fees. It may be useful to establish rules requiring your child to seek your permission before they download files, to prevent unexpected costs. Establishing a weekly family budget for media downloads can help.
    5. If your child uses a download site that charges fees check that the website has secure online payment facilities. Look for an https:// in the address field and a locked padlock symbol at the bottom of the screen. The https:// and padlock indicate that financial data is being encrypted and protected from unauthorised access.
    6. Talk to your child about the download limit of your internet contract. What is the limit and what is the cost if it is exceeded? What sort of usage occurs with each download, and how you can check current usage with your child?
    7. Consider using filters, labels and safe zones to help manage your child’s online access.
    8. Install and update anti-virus and other e-security software to restrict unauthorised access to data on the home computer and protect that data from corruption. Ensure that security features including a firewall are turned on, set to automatic scan and updated regularly to protect against the latest risks.

    Teenagers

    Downloading is popular with teens that may download media files such as music, TV shows, movies and ringtones. The following tips can help guide your teen to download safely.

    1. Talk with your teen about the potential risks of using unsafe websites to download and share files, including the risk of infecting the home computer with viruses, the potential costs and the legalities of breaching copyright.
    2. If you want to teach your teen about downloading reliable and legal media download sites, these should be clear from the terms and conditions or can be found through web searches or other sources of authority.
    3. If you are unsure about other safe or legal websites to use ask around—word of mouth from friends and family is a good way to identify reliable download sources.
    4. If you are comfortable with your child using download sites that charge for use you might consider visiting your preferred websites with them and checking the fees. It may be useful to establish rules requiring your child to seek your permission before they download files, to prevent unexpected costs. Establishing a weekly family budget for media downloads can help.
    5. If your child uses a download site that charges fees check that the website has secure online payment facilities. Look for an https:// in the address field and a locked padlock symbol at the bottom of the screen. The https:// and padlock indicate that financial data is being encrypted and protected from unauthorised access.
    6. Talk to your child about the download limit of your internet contract. What is the limit and what is the cost if it is exceeded? What sort of usage occurs with each download, and how you can check current usage with your child?
    7. Consider using filters, labels and safe zones to help manage your child’s online access.
    8. Install and update anti-virus and other e-security software to restrict unauthorised access to data on the home computer and protect that data from corruption. Ensure that security features including a firewall are turned on set to automatic scan an updated regularly to protect against the latest risks.
  • Securing a wireless network

    Wireless networks in the office or at home enable users to share files, printers and internet access between all their computers without cables.

    Wireless networking is very useful, but if not password protected, your wireless network may be accessed by others—even people who live next door or across the street. This could lead to you exceeding your download limit without knowing why. It can also enable others to access your personal information.

    There are countless public computers offering internet access including computers in libraries, airports and internet cafes. Because these computers are accessible to many people, taking extra precautions to protect personal information and protect against possible virus infection is important.

    Remembering not to leave a public computer unattended until fully logging out and not saving any files or any log-in information will help you to be safe when using public computers. Where a website has an automatic log-in checkbox, it’s a good idea to uncheck it. This helps to prevent others logging in with your identity later. When you’ve finished, clear the history, quit the browser, log out and, if possible, reboot the computer.

    If using a public wireless network try to avoid online banking or credit card transactions, and ensure that security software, such as anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall, are installed on the laptop.

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