Originally published in The Clarion | October 17, 2012
The Web can be a very dangerous place, and the reasons are many. From transferring sensitive data like online banking to simple things we take for granted like eMail, very rarely is there an online situation that is entirely safe. Most typical communications protocols are not inherently secure; add to that unsecured wireless networks and we have nothing less than the perfect mixture for disaster. Fortunately though, with a little education and modifications to not only the software applications we use but also our browsing habits, simple measures can go a very long way to help ensure a safer Web.
More than once I have mentioned how obvious it should be to secure both home and office wireless networks. Unencrypted wireless traffic combined with less than poor protection on connected devices can’t possibly lead to anything good. Once the obvious has been addressed and taken care of, several other measures can be taken to help ensure online safety. For starters, never – and I mean this in the context of “without exception” – never respond to an eMail message asking you for your username and password to anything. I cannot think of any circumstance where anyone – your Internet Service Provider, financial institution, school – would legitimately ask for such critical information via eMail. It isn’t going to happen (legitimately that is). The best thing to do if you receive a message asking for your credentials is to simply delete the message. If you are uncomfortable doing this without gaining additional information first, pick up the phone and get a live body to answer your questions. Then delete the message.
Another smart habit when using the Web is to use the secure version of the HTTP protocol whenever possible. You will probably be surprised at how many common sites you visit every day have an alternate secure destination. To do this, simply type https:// (instead of the typical http://) before the address you wish to go to. HTTP Secure adds a security layer on top of the typical HTTP protocol which allows for both verification that the accessed site is truly who they claim to be and encryption of the “conversation” between you and them. It’s a simple measure that results in enormous benefits.
Finally, smart browsing should be the number-one consideration if you use a shared computer. This might be a computer in a public library, a hotel lobby or anywhere else that your data could be compromised. All modern web browsers include or allow a feature called incognito browsing. Once enabled, everything you do on the Web will remain in the browser’s memory (for lack of a better term) until you end the incognito session. This includes any cookies that may be downloaded, any usernames you might enter into login boxes – everything. The most important thing to remember here of course is to end the incognito session once you’re done. Smart and safe browsing isn’t very hard to accomplish, simply take the necessary mesasures and think about what you’re doing to ensure your online safety.