Do you feel safe and secure online? |

Do you feel safe and secure online?

It’s easy to feel safe and anonymous as you sit at your computer, late at night, roaming the Internet. No one can see you, your actions are completely private – right? Well no, not exactly.

Every time you log on to the Internet, your computer actively exchanges pieces of information with other computers. The privacy level of these communications depends on which sites you visit as well as the security features set in your Web browser.

Some companies harvest e-mail addresses so they can send out more spam. Some ruthless criminals obtain your credit card and make charges on it without authorization.

You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable while using the Internet – the bad guys aren’t everywhere, and not everyone’s privacy is breached. But because the possibility exists of being taken advantage of, you might wish to consider a few practices that will decrease your vulnerability.

First, you know when you fill out forms on the Web, and some fields are marked “required” while others are simply optional? Don’t fill in the optional fields. Why give a company your phone number or e-mail address if you don’t have to?

Next, be aware that some sites actually install what’s called “spyware” onto your computer – without your knowledge or approval. Spyware can track your surfing habits, profile your shopping preferences, alter important system files and hijack your browser homepage.

In essence, spyware communicates information about you across the Internet without your permission, meaning it’s guilty of information theft.

Yes, spyware is dirty, evil, and wrong, but it’s not uncommon.

“What can I do?!” you cry! Calm yourself, I reply.

Simply consider installing a piece of software that can detect spy activity on your computer. Such software can be found at

Other popular software programs that can help you are Ad-aware (offered by and OptOut ( And in case you’re wondering, the software offered on the above-mentioned Web sites is free.

Additionally, as I’ve mentioned before, DO NOT unsubscribe to spam e-mails!! By telling the spammers you’d like to unsubscribe, you’re actually telling them you exist – which sets you up to get more spam.

Next, try and be wary of the privacy policies used by the Web sites you frequent. I know it’s unrealistic to expect you to read the volumes of text comprising many of these policies, but awareness is always a good thing.

The following sentence shows why this is true. The words come directly from’s online privacy policy: “We may disclose, sell, trade or rent your personally identifiable information to others without your consent.”

Ouch. And you wondered how all those telemarketers and junk-email distributors were getting your contact info S

Moving on.

Many Web browsers offer a variety of security features. For example, Internet Explorer allows you to block Web sites that contain nudity, sex and violence that you might consider inappropriate for the users of your computer.

Microsoft also states you can “Use Authenticode technology to help verify whether or not software is appropriate before you download it.”

Explore the security and privacy settings in your Web browser. See if there are any changes you feel comfortable making that might increase your online security.

If you use Internet Explorer, the settings window can be found by going to the tools menu at the top of your screen, then selecting “Internet Options.” A window will open up, and the two tabs of interest are (obviously!) labeled “security” and “privacy.” Check them out.

Another measure you can take in maintaining your personal privacy is setting up what’s called a “firewall.”

A firewall is a piece of software (though it can also be a hardware device) that protects your computer from unauthorized access.

In other words, firewalls stop the bad guys from doing harm to your computer. If you’re interested, check out ZoneAlarm (

store/content/company/products/znalm/freeDownload.jsp) or Sygate Personal Firewall (

products/spf_standard.htm). Both companies offer free downloads, and both target Windows users. (Symantec sells a Norton Personal Firewall for Macs.)

I hope I didn’t scare any of you. The Internet is a fun, safe place to learn, shop and explore. Don’t be afraid of those bad guys. Take some of the steps I outlined above and keep them from ruining your online experience.

Based in Frisco, eRin pheiL is the primary creative force behind timeforcake ( She can be reached via phone at (970) 668-0709 or e-mail at

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