Dr. Bill's "How to Stay Safe on the Web", or, "It is Good to be Paranoid!"

People ask me all the time, "How can I be safe on the Web?"  This is because in my twenty-six plus years of computer use, I have never had a virus.  I have never had my money scammed, and I have never lost data (unless due to physical disk failure, and then, I had backups.)  Here are some rules to live by on the Web:
  1. Normally, in "real life", "being paranoid" is a considered a bad thing.  NOT so on the Web!  The attitude to be safe on the Web is that EVERYONE is evil and out to take you for all you've got!  The Web is the "wild, wild west" of the computer world!  The only way you'll avoid some ambushes out there is by using your wits! Think twice before you click that link that promises not-to-be-missed delights!  Unless you KNOW, that you KNOW the offer, or whatever, is legitimate, ALWAYS assume it is out to get you!  Imagine an evil, sleazy bum with two days growth of beard and a beer gut poking out from his nasty tee-shirt is salivating watching whether you are going to click that button!  Believe me, he's out there!
  2. Be wary of ANY popup or message that shows up out of the blue. Don't click any of the links!  Don't click on the "click here to close" message, a button saying "click here to close" can be a button that installs spyware, or much worse!  Don't even click the "X" button in the upper right hand corner to close the page. Hold down the"Ctrl" key and press the "W" key to close them. If that doesn't work, click Ctrl+Alt+Delete > highlight your browser on the list of applications > click "Close Task" > and then close Windows Task Manager window.  Remember they ARE out to get you!  (Really.)
  3. Stay away from "back alley" sites -- gothic, tres equis, warez, crackz, gamer, cheat codes -- places of that ilk. Be cautious at a site that you "stumble across." If you REALLY want to check out a dubious site, use a passive browser like Off-by-One first.  "Off-By-One" is a very, very "dumbed down" browser that won't leave any trace of you, or your personal info, at a site.  And, it doesn't support ANYTHING that may compromise you (Java, ActiveX, etc.), for this reason, it is a VERY boring, stupid browser... but if you are planning to do something stupid, it is a good way to minimize the risk.  Remember the Redwine Principal, "If you are gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough!"
  4. Legitimate websites or e-mails will never ask for your private information such as credit card information or your account password unless you initiated the contact. [Scams, Hoaxes, Fraud and Identity Theft]  If you give any site or person your private information, you are saying, in effect, "I trust you completely with my accounts, money, and my life!"  Be sure that you KNOW who you are dealing with!  Never give anyone your Social Security number.  No one needs that but  you and Uncle Sam... and I wonder about him!
  5. Block pop-up windows to reduce your risk. The excellent Firefox Browser does a great job of blocking unwanted pop-ups. There are commercial programs that will do this, too.  BUT, you are paying someone for something that Firefox does for free... how smart is that?  Let me put this another way... DON'T USE INTERNET EXPLORER!!!  USE FIREFOX!!!  Or, Google Chrome, my favorite browser, and the safest on the Internet! OK, are we clear on that?
  6. Be cautious with most generally available Webmail (like Hotmail and Yahoo) if you use it. Its usually in HTML format. A malicious message embedded with evil code could spoil your whole day just as easily as a malicious webpage can. Usually there's a way to delete suspicious messages without even opening them. Look for it and test it before you need it.  Of course, if you are using Squirrelmail through any of my web server addresses (like ptnc.com, fvc.org, etc.) then you will get Webmail that is always clean, protected and is passed through multiple Spam and Virus filters.  If you fall into this category, then you are highly blessed and are extremely well protected!  And, if you are a friend of mine and want a free protected web-based e-mail account (and also IMAP enabled) so you can use Thunderbird (see below,) then send me an e-mail and I will set you up!  Dewd.
  7. And while we are on the subject of e-mail... if you use Outlook or Outlook Express, then bless your darling, widdle heart!  You are in trouble!  If you MUST do so, at least (at the VERY LEAST!) turn off the Preview Pane, and disable HTML messages.  Look up these topics in your version of Outlook's Help File, as it changes with each version that M$ puts out, because they are evil.  If your ISP supports the IMAP mail protocol, you can have e-mail that "lives" on the server, and can be read from a properly configured Mozilla Thunderbird client from anywhere.  Must nicer and safer than POP3.  If you MUST use POP3 e-mail, at least use the Thunderbird e-mail client from mozilla.org to have a safe POP3 e-mail experience, and get Thunderbird's free, built-in spam blocker.  Again, they have software that you can buy to do this and try and protect Outlook, but you are paying money to kludge M$'s unsafe software... again... is this smart?  Find out how to set up Thunderbird for IMAP HERE!
  8. DO NOT click on any links in e-mail.  DO NOT believe messages that say they have thousands of dollars they want to transfer into your bank account if you will JUST send them your bank account number.  DO NOT pass along e-mails that say, "Please pass this along to all your friends."  That is universally bad "netiquette" and makes you look dumb to all the people that receive your e-mail.  It eats up expensive bandwidth and server disk space and costs millions of dollars each year and the messages they are asking you to send out are lying, bogus, and untrue.  And some are just plain stupid.  Remember what the great philosopher Forrest Gump said, "Stupid is, as stupid does."  True.
  9. DO NOT open attachments on e-mails!  That's right, I said do not open attachments AT ALL!  But... but... I NEED to open my attachments!  Then you have just assessed the risk as "acceptable" and will suffer the consequences if you are wrong.  If you KNOW THAT YOU KNOW, that  a person that just said that they were going to send you an attachment did so, and you choose to open it... it MAY be alright.  But even if they sent a legitimate aattachment THEY may have a virus infection that will be spread to your system.  Opening attachments under ANY condition is risky behavior!
  10. Be careful when you download files. Consider the source before you do, and be careful with any file, even those from "trusted sites."  Remember they ARE definitely out to get you!  If you download and run a file, you are running the risk of losing ALL your data every time you do.  Isn't it worth an extra few moments thought of, "Am I SURE I know who this is, and that they are legit?"  Did I mention that they are out to get you?
  11. This is a Universal Truth: : Microsoft products are bloated, full of security holes and generally extremely poor examples of computer programming.  When possible use any other software than Microsoft (which I usually shorten to "M$", for many reasons.)  If you need an excellent word processor, spreadsheet and presentation package, use LibreOffice.org. Most aggressive macro viruses are written for M$ software.  Using Open Source packages will help protect you... and they are free.  You either paid huge money for the M$ programs, or you stole them, got a copy from a friend (stole them,) and are running illegal software by not having a licensed copy on each machine that you use.  This will cut short your blessings in life, because stealing is... bad.  Running free Open Source software is... good.  You can run it totally free and legal on multiple machines.  Your path to blessings are now open.  Don't you feel better?  For example: If you need a WYSIWYG ("what-you-see-is-what-you-get") web page editor you can buy something like Adobe Dreamweaver for $300.00 plus, and pay for every successive upgrade for $100.00 plus, or you can use KompoZer for free, and all future upgrades are also free.  Duh.  By the way, this page was written with KompoZer; I practice what I preach!
  12. You MUST use a good anti-virus on EVERY computer that you use.  This is so basic I shouldn't have to say it.  "But it costs me "X" dollars every year to keep it current!," you say.  Not if you use the free, and excellent, Ad-Aware Anti-Virus.  (Just be careful to install ONLY the Free Anti-Virus, NO options, like the web browser protection, it will install a browser bar... I hate those, don't you?) Don't be dumb, be safe!
  13. Protect yourself from Ad-Ware and Spyware.  Use these free tools... all of them!!!  Regularly!  As in once per week; and update the "signatures" when you do.  SpywareBlaster, Spybot Search & Destroy, and Ad-Aware.  This is NOT an option.  And remember... yes, you got it... they ARE out to get you!

Please remember... be paranoid!  The computer that you save, may be your own!

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