Sidebar: Protect that computer information and thank yourself later

While writing today’s piece on yet another phishing attempt by someone claiming to be PayPal, a few things came to mind and they deserve a blog entry on their own. I’ll include them in this sidebar.

Off the top of my head, I listed a few measures you can take to protect your computer and your online information — in fact, your whole identity — from being stolen.

This gets even more important as we use the Internet for more important aspects of daily life, such as moving money around.

Most of these tips are common sense, but those are sometimes the hardest ones to remember and implement.

Here’s a sampling:


  • Choose your tools carefully. If you use Internet Explorer, take that icon off your desktop right now and surf with a different browser. Chromium (an open-source version of Google Chrome) is good, as are Firefox and Opera.
  • Keep that browser updated.
  • Be careful about passwords; PayPal_Andy’s advice of having a designated password for each site is highly recommended, even though I’m guilty of using the same passwords for more than one site.
  • Don’t open any attachments if you don’t know the sender.
  • Be wary of attachments from someone you know; zap it with your virus and malware protection tools before you open it.
  • I’d also be wary of links sent by email, especially when they’re shortened through bit.ly or some other service. Also be careful of links posted on your favorite social media sites; you can click on some malware real easily that way. I’ve seen malware propagate among everyone on your friends/followers lists, making them the gift that keeps on giving.
  • You do have virus protection, don’t you? You do keep it updated, don’t you? Virus protection that’s not kept up to speed is totally worthless.
  • Grab some spyware protection, too. For that I recommend Spybot Search And Destroy.
  • Be careful about using public wireless for any business involving money; it’s too easy to tap into your information that way.
  • If surfing in a public place, watch for anyone behind you or sit with your back against a wall. I know this sounds goofy, but when some lowlife is trying to grab your information the low-tech ways are often the most effective.
  • Don’t let me scare you or anything.

If you use a smartphone:

  • Guard it with your life. Even if you want to be a good neighbor and help someone in a pinch, don’t let that person “hold” your phone. It’s too easy for him to snatch it and run. Most smartphones carry way more information than you’d think, and most of it can be found in seconds.
  • Be careful about dropping or leaving your phone somewhere. Same reason.
  • I use a lanyard from an old mp3 player and attach it to my phone holster. The other end is attached to a small carabiner, which I clip onto a belt loop. The holster’s flap is closed when I’m not using the phone. That way, if the holster falls off (happens more often than I’d like to think) or someone tries to snatch it off your belt, you’d know immediately.
  • Stay aware of what’s around you, even if you’re texting or playing whatever brain-sucking smartphone game is hot these days. I’ve heard of folks stealing someone’s phone while the person is using it.
  • Two words: Password protection.

If you can think of any other means of protecting your information, share in the comments section. I’ll be glad to include it. Let’s watch one another’s backs.


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