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Chapter 7. Understanding the Online Envi... > Precautions for Web Surfing

Precautions for Web Surfing

We have brought together a wealth of information to arm you with enough knowledge to protect your privacy and home computer systems in your Web surfing habits. Pass this information along, share your knowledge with friends and family, and seek others' advice when in doubt. The following list of precautions will be reiterated throughout this book, expanding into the details of each. Although we provide product names throughout to help you get going, we do not endorse any products mentioned. Remember that in the war to defend your privacy, it is up to you to keep your guard up! Here are some guidelines to help you do just that:

  • Be aware of home computers and networks— Know who is using your computers and your home network. At work, do you share a computer with others? At home, does the family share the same computer or do the kids have their own? Do your friends or your children's friends use the computers, too? If you have a network set up at home, you should take some of the precautions described in Chapter 13, “Securing Your Home Network.” Considerations include personal firewalls and folder sharing among others. If your Web surfing activities result in your PC being infected with a virus or compromised by an attacker, the next threat is spreading it across your network.

  • Understand your Web browser— Learn about it, and read the help files and any documentation you can find on it. Search the Internet for information on the latest news surrounding your browser of choice. The two most popular Web browsers are discussed in this book, in their latest versions: Netscape Navigator 6.1 and Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 6.0. However, other good browsers do exist for many operating systems, including Opera and NeoPlanet. Take the time and learn the security features of your Web browser.

  • Be aware of Web security— Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is useful in protecting Internet banking, shopping, and other activities. SSL protects the communications between your Web browser and a Web site by ensuring that identities and exchanged information are protected with encryption. Understand, however, that SSL protects your information only while in transit! After that, information is sent to the server, where it can be stored in an unencrypted form, or much worse, in a completely unsecured manner. It can be sold by your trusted e-tailer to a third-party marketing agency. Stay abreast of the latest methods people and organizations are using to get your personal information—be it Web bugs, spyware programs you download, e-mail harvesting, or cookies for surveillance! At least by staying aware of the threats, you have a greater chance of recognizing them when they come.

  • Know the sites you are visiting— Be wary of the content and amount of personal information you provide them. Read their privacy policies—do they make sense? Does this company have a good reputation? Before registering with it, look around for information about its business doings, and ask people who might know. Does the site you are visiting allow third parties to bug or advertise on its Web site?

  • Be selective about the personal information you give out— Never give out personal information to strangers online in chat rooms or through e-mail messages. Teach your kids about this, too.

  • Control your cookies— Pay attention to the cookies that sites put on your system. Use a cookie manager program that lets you easily control which sites you will and will not accept cookies from. The program should also let you block third-party cookies; luckily, the latest popular browsers (Netscape Navigator 6.1, Internet Explorer 6.0, and Opera 5) provide for this.

  • Use anonymizing techniques— Keep a separate e-mail account for making newsgroup, chat room, or any other public Internet postings. Do not tie any personal information to this e-mail account that you do not want publicly available. Be prepared for this e-mail address to receive a lot of spam mail and junk mail (one and the same really). Do not put your e-mail address on Web pages or other Internet postings that make it an easy catch for Web bots or other Internet spiders (small automated programs that search the Web for information).



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