Cyber Safety Rules (Part II)

Last week I talked about keeping safe on the Internet and I shared a couple of hints about how to do that.

They were passed on to me by Deloitte’s Annamart Nieman and Jacques Malan who specialise in cyber threat management and cyber forensics. You can read those hints in last week’s column on this blog, but now on with some other hints provided by Annamart and Jacques.

There is no harm in using publicly accessible computers in an Internet café to browse the Web for information but it could be a big mistake to use them to do Internet banking, buy stuff online, or connect to your office network with your confidential username and password.

Compromising information could remain on the machine where a malicious person could find it and use it against you. It is possible to install hardware devices and programs on a computer to record users’ keystrokes which will, of course, include your credit card details if you’ve been unwise enough to type them in.

The next rule is to have different passwords for all your bits and pieces including Windows logon, e-mail, Internet banking and online blogging and picture sharing accounts. The idea being that, if one password is compromised, the bad guys don’t have instant access to you whole life.

While on the subject of passwords, you should never choose a word which occurs in a dictionary or, even, in a list of names. There are programs out there which can be used to get past password protection by methodically entering every word in the dictionary until they come across the word that works.

The bad guys would be able to get into your account relatively quickly if the password were aardvark, for example, but they could probably try from now until Christmas if it was a strong password consisting of a random selection of upper and lower case letters, characters and numbers, such as j8%Be981X.

I seem to remember reading somewhere that fred was the most commonly used password and I need hardly add that it could not be considered a strong one. Neither would some variation on your birth date or wedding anniversary.

I see I am running short of space this week so I’ll just let Annmart and Jacques have the last word as far as your precious data does. However many precautions you take, you can count on the fact that you are going to lose data sooner or later, whether from a malicious attack or a hard drive failure.

The only thing that’ll save you bacon in this situation is a recent backup of all your data. DVD writers and blank discs are now so cheap that there is no excuse not to back up your entire My Documents folder and e-mail folders regularly.

Extra hints

E-mail is the main way that viruses are spread from computer to computer and you should be very careful when opening e-mail and, especially, files which are attached to e-mail message. You can’t go too far wrong if you delete all mail when you don’t recognise the source and, before you open attachments, just check that the message was actuallysent by the person it is apparently from.

You can minimise the amount of spam you receive by being careful who you give your e-mail address to. Some sites do demand an e-mail address before they will let you in and a good tactic is to get a free online e-mail account, such as Hotmail. You can give that address out to people you don’t know and, when it starts getting too much spam, you just abandon it and get another one.

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