The Norman Transcript

November 9, 2013

Locking down your online messages, Part 2

The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Last week we looked at Steps 1 through 5 on how normal computer users can protect themselves against Internet criminals who use online messaging systems such as email. This week, we continue with Steps 5 to 7.

5) Having a good antivirus program installed and running is required to achieve any level of Internet messaging safety. Avast Antivirus is now the number one free antivirus program rated by Consumer Reports. Last year, when Avira Antivirus was number one, Avast was number two. This year, Avira is number two. Either way, they are both good programs. Get one and use it. Visit my website and read my 4-21-13 column titled, “Basic Antivirus Rules,” for more thorough information.

6) It is a good idea to periodically get rid of things like temporary files and “cookies.” My favorite tool for handling these chores is a free program called Ccleaner (not “CC” Cleaner, as some people have been tricked into installing). For complete instructions on how to use Ccleaner, read my two columns on the subject from January 2012.

7) Limit what you say on the Internet. This is especially true for social networking sites like Facebook. They simply are not safe places to list all the personal details of your life.

If your Facebook friends are truly your friends, then they already know your birthday, place of employment, spouse’s name, street address, email address, phone number, the names of your children, what kind of car you drive, etc. There is no need to put this information on Facebook.

Even more dangerous is when parents not only post pictures and the names of their children on Facebook, but also reveal their birth dates, where they attend school, where they go to day care, the names of their friends and teachers, the name of their doctor, and so forth. Facebook is not a safe place for a child’s personal information.

Email is somewhat safer than Facebook, but only somewhat. At least with email, you are not posting private information directly to an Internet website governed by dubious privacy policies. Many experts say that information contained in emails should be considered no safer than postcards mailed at the local post office.

One telling fact should be the way many banks handle sensitive information with their customers. For example, when exchanging messages containing personal account details, my bank requires the use of a special, secured and encrypted email system. I like that.

If you need to send financial, medical or other sensitive information via email, you may want to consider using an encrypted email service like Enlocked or Countermail.

I am also looking forward to the results of the proposed Dark Mail Alliance. Formed in recent weeks by encrypted email providers Lavamail and Silent Circle, and motivated by revelations of email hacking involving the National Security Agency, the Dark Mail Alliance looks to provide a free, easy-to-use, “surveillance-proof” encrypted email system. All that’s really needed is for major email providers like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft to get on board. If “The Big Three” aren’t already too deeply in bed with “The Fed” to join, the Dark Mail Alliance could be of real benefit in protecting email users from Internet scammers like the Russian Mafia. Stay tuned.

Dave Moore has been performing computer consulting, repairs, security and networking in Oklahoma since 1984. He also teaches computer safety workshops for public and private organizations. He can be reached at 405-919-9901 or davemoorecomputers. com

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