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Protecting your computer

Understanding internet security risks

Poor e-security can result in the corruption of files and data, loss of privacy and can enable criminals and others to access personal and financial information. E-security measures provide protection from unwanted intentional and unintentional intrusion into computers, file corruption and data loss.

  • Viruses, worms and Trojans

    A virus is a piece of malicious computer code transmitted by email, through infected downloads including new software, images, music files, infected computer devices such as a USB or when surfing the web. Viruses can damage computers, steal information and spread themselves to other computers.

    A Trojan is a program which can damage a computer, steal private data, give other people access to the computer or spread a virus.

    A worm is a self-replicating program that can spread without user intervention. Worms are designed to further infect computers with other types of malicious software, such as programs that send spam. A worm can spread by sending itself to all the contacts in an email program’s address book, or via a security flaw in a program or in the computer’s operating system.

  • What happens if my computer is infected?

    The most common symptoms that a computer has been infected by a virus include:

    1. Files and data have been deleted or file names are changed,
    2. The computer takes longer to load programs or applications or web pages ,
    3. The computer takes longer to boot, continually restarts or does not start at all,
    4. Items and images on the screen are distorted and unusual images and text appear,
    5. The hard disk may be inaccessible or appear to be working harder than normal,
    6. Excessive network activity (lights blinking excessively on modem),
    7. The web browser opens on a different homepage,
    8. Frequent system or program crashes.

    This is not an exhaustive list and these symptoms may occur for reasons other than a virus infection. Seek advice from a computer professional if you suspect your computer may have become infected by a virus.

  • Spyware and adware

    Spyware is a computer program that is remotely installed on computers, usually without permission from the owner, with the purpose of collecting information and sending it back to another source.

    Spyware can be a minor annoyance or a serious threat to computer security. At its most aggressive, spyware can be used to steal personal information, banking details and passwords.

    Adware is a form of spyware that records a user’s web-surfing habits and displays advertisements targeted to their interests. Adware is sometimes offered in exchange for ‘free’ services, such as music downloads.

  • Scams, spam and phishing

    Scams are ways of obtaining information or money through false means, scams target people of all backgrounds and succeed for two reasons. Firstly, a scam looks like the real thing and secondly, it appears to meet a need, offering quick cash, asking for a response to a compassionate issue, or making people feel special, for example. ‘Congratulations you are one of the lucky few chosen…

    Spam is an unsolicited commercial electronic message. This includes email, instant messaging, SMS and MMS received without consent, usually advertising a product or service. Spam can waste time and lead to viruses. Although the most common place to find spam is in an email, it can also appear in online forums, instant messaging chats, newsgroups and blogs.

    Phishing is the use of email or SMS to encourage individuals to reveal financial details like credit card numbers, account names and passwords or other personal information.

    Phishing messages can look like genuine messages from a real bank, telecommunications provider, online retailer or credit card company. Often the message will contain an urgent ‘call to action’, such as claims that the bank account will be closed or compromised if action is not taken. Phishing is usually sent by email from falsified email addresses, but is increasingly being sent to mobile telephones and VoIP telephone services.

  • Tips for Managing scams, spam and phishing

    1. Avoid giving out your email address or mobile phone number publicly and check that children aren’t giving details out.
    2. Check the terms and conditions of anything you and your children sign up for— for example, are you consenting to receive commercial messages?
    3. Warn children and young people to be wary about accepting unknown friends or causes on social networking sites—unknown contacts or causes have been linked to identity theft scams.
    4. Do not respond to unknown SMSs asking you or your children to make contact and provide cash or financial information. If a phone or email contact seems unusual especially if money is involved hang up or not reply.
    5. If concerned that you or your child may have been the target of a scam, contact your local consumer affairs agency.
    6. Remember that banking institutions will never contact customers by email seeking specific account details. Contact your bank directly using verified contact details if you have any concerns about a contact from a source claiming to be your bank.
    7. Only disclose financial information on websites that you trust and that have secure payment facilities identified by a web address beginning with https:// and a ‘locked’ padlock symbol in the bottom of the screen, which indicates that data is being encrypted.
    8. If you receive an email that seems suspicious, for example, you don’t recognise the sender or the subject line looks dubious delete it and don’t click on any links within it.
    9. If you receive a message from a legitimate business, for example a financial institution or shop, but do not want to receive messages from that organisation, you can unsubscribe through an email link or SMS ‘STOP’.
    10. 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.
  • Pop-ups

    Pop-ups are small windows that appear in front of an internet browser. They are frequently used to display advertising, including advertising for unwanted content such as pornography. Pop-ups are also used by many websites to enable users to enter required information legitimately.

    Pop-ups used for advertising can annoy users, as they can appear without notice or warning. They can also open websites which are difficult to close, or link users to other, unwanted website content.

    There are a number of ways to manage pop-ups using settings on search engines or internet browsers. For example, the Google toolbar provides a free pop-up blocker that enables users to configure those websites where they want to allow pop-ups to appear, and to block pop-ups on websites where they aren’t required.

    A number of popular browsers allow users to change settings to block pop-ups. Check the ‘Help’ options on these browsers for information.

    There are some legitimate websites that invite users to switch off pop-up blocking software temporarily because a pop-up from that site will help the user to enter information required by the site. If it’s a reputable website, you can temporarily turn off pop-up blocking.

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