However, not all Internet traffic is unimportant. With the rise of broadband technology, more daily business takes place online, which makes the risk of data theft greater than ever. Luckily, there are ways to protect yourself and your data from the unsavory characters who call the Internet home.
What is encryption?
The industry standard for secure Internet transmissions is 128-bit encryption. It encodes messages by using a linked key method. On one end, the message is encoded with a private key. The recipient uses the sender’s public key to decode the message after it arrives. If the message was tampered with in any way, the public key doesn’t decode the message correctly — alerting the recipient that the information shouldn’t be trusted.
Verifying that messages are intact when they arrive is all well and good, but what about confidential messages that shouldn’t be read by anyone but the intended recipient? Say you need to send confidential plans for your newest product line to your marketing manager. You would encode the documents by using the recipient’s public key, ensuring that only his or her private key could decode the information. Anyone else who tried would get a mess of random characters.
Does your Web browser support 128-bit encryption?
To check your Web browser’s level of encryption, open the About dialog
box. In Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer, select Help > About Internet Explorer. The Cipher Strength field indicates your encryption level.
Use Antivirus and Antispyware Software
Installing a firewall on your PC is vitally important to security, but unfortunately, just blocking the entrance to your system isn’t enough to keep it secure. You also need to have virus-scanning and spyware-detection software installed and running.
These packages need to be updated regularly to remain effective because malicious hackers don’t write one virus and then go home. They write one, and then watch to see what virus-scanning software vendors do to detect it. Hackers learn how to make their viruses less detectable and more virulent — and every time new viruses are released, virus software gets smarter about detecting them. It’s a cat-and-mouse game that catches computer users in the middle. The best steps to take to avoid infection are:
Practice caution when using the Internet — don’t visit questionable Web sites, don’t click on pop-up ads, and don’t click links haphazardly.
Update your virus protection software daily.
Spyware-detection software scans your system for evidence of spyware. Spyware is any software that’s installed without the user’s consent or knowledge and reports data about the user back to the software owner. Spyware can record and relay anything from innocuous data about Web browsing habits to credit card numbers and other highly sensitive data that the user enters at a Web site or stores on the PC.
The best way to reduce your risk of spyware is to avoid getting it in the first place by reading all terms of service agreements carefully before you download software from the Internet, and avoid downloading anything advertised in spam or made available on public peer-to-peer networks. However, no matter how careful you are, spyware is still a risk. You should scan your system for spyware at least once every week — more often is better.
Use Third-Party Tools
Computer hardware and software companies offer tools and utilities to keep your data safe. Some provide enhanced security capabilities, such as double passwords, to help protect against unauthorized access to networks and data. Other options include electronic e-mail signing and encryption, authentication, auditing of data import and export from multiple devices, hardware locks, and more.
Use Secure Passwords
Secure passwords are another component of data security, and they are even more important when you’re working remotely. You should have your PC set up to require a password when you log on to the system. Entering a password every time you start your PC can be tedious, but the added security is worth the extra 30 seconds. What constitutes a good password? The following is a list of characteristics that add up to a secure password:
In general, the longer your password, the more difficult it is to crack. However, you do need to balance the benefit of a very long password with the inconvenience of remembering and typing it every time you need to log on to your PC. Eight characters should be the minimum length for passwords.
Combination of letters (both upper case and lower case), numbers, and symbols:
A password that includes uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols (such as @, $ , _, and &) is more secure than one that’s made up of only letters.
Difficult to guess:
You should choose a password that’s easy for you to memorize but difficult for anyone else to guess. These types of passwords might be easy to guess:
Your name or birthday or family members’ names or birthdays
The name of your pet
Your user name
Common strings such as “abcdefg” or “12345”
Keys that are adjacent on the keyboard, such as “qwerty” or “asdfgh”
Any word found in the dictionary
However, you can increase the strength of an easy-to-guess password by combining words or misspelling them. For instance, if your name is Mary Smith, “msmith” wouldn’t be a secure password. Instead, try “[email protected]_sM1Th.” It’s 10 characters long and includes a number, both uppercase and lowercase letters, and two different symbols. It’s still easy to remember but more difficult to crack.