Five tips for safer Internet

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This is one European idea that we should be glad to adopt. Feb. 6 is Safer Internet Day, initially focused on making the internet safer for children, and urging us all toward more responsible use of online technology.

So before you click on that link, consider these five tips from this cybersecurity adviser to Bill Gates, former McAfee and Lockheed Martin executive who served on the president’s Commission on Cyber Security: Dr. Eric Cole.

1. Don’t click in emails. Never click on a link or email attachment. Think of email as a text-only method of communication, says Cole, “because nothing else about it is safe.” Emails (even from friends) aren’t meant for transferring files, and links are often not what they appear to be — they’re also used to spread malware, viruses and the like. Instead, copy and paste the link in a web browser.

2. Don’t use only one credit card. Many credit cards are available without annual fees; Cole recommends having at least three different cards to use for different purposes, with a low credit limit to control spending. Having separate cards for different types of transactions (e.g., paying bills vs. online purchases or travel) reduces fraud risk and eases recovery if one card gets compromised. Experts recommend against using debit cards except at bank ATMs; debit cards tend to have less fraud and theft protection. Enable real-time text message alerts on your cards so that you know every time your card is used.

3. Consider a second computer. The idea is to have a separate “high risk” (better protected) computer for riskier online activities such as email, web browsing, and shopping. On your “low risk” computer minimize online activity to encrypted transactions, such as bank or credit card companies. The risk of compromise is increasing, and the hope of preventing or recovering lost financial information is said to be worth the cost of a second computer.

4. Don’t use public wifi without a VPN. Each time you log on to an unprotected public network, everyone else on that network can see your computer or device. A VPN, or virtual private network, is an application you can download which creates a private tunnel to the Internet for your device. Every time you want to connect to the Internet in public, you fire up your VPN and you become invisible. Some are free, if you can tolerate the ads.

5. Use stronger passwords. You’ve heard this advice: make them hard to figure out, mix numbers, symbols and letters, and change them regularly. It may be a pain, but get hacked once and it’s suddenly worthwhile. Cole recommends switching to pass “phrases,” by creating a strong password from a phrase that you’ll remember, but no one else can guess.

For more information and tips see Onlinedanger.com and Us-cert.gov/ncas/tips.

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a technically challenged columnist for the Hagadone News Network. Contact her at Sholeh@cdapress.com.

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