The internet is an undeniable asset to any family or individual, but the truth is that for all of its value it can also be a dangerous place despite appearances to the contrary. Like any tool, the internet is only useful if it is handled correctly with some decent advice to keep you safe online. If you are slightly unsure about what the potential threats are and how to avoid them, read on.
The most publicised online threat is posed by identity theft. People can lose significant sums of money if they have their financial details nabbed by fraudsters and hackers, so protecting against it is essential. The easiest way to prevent ID theft is to keep your personal information close to your chest and never give out any details to websites or online contacts that you do not know and explicitly trust. Phishing sites, which are malicious sites posing as legitimate enterprises, are a tool used by ID thieves to con people into unloading information in the hope either of getting a deal that is too good to be true, or because they masquerade as a trusted entity such as a bank or mainstream retailer. It can be difficult to stumble upon a phishing site by accident and so be wary of any unsolicited emails which contain links to sites promising unlikely promotions. These are usually just the work of organisations of criminals who are looking to steal your personal information and potentially borrow your identity for nefarious purposes.
Amongst the younger generation, cyber bullying and inappropriate grooming are two sides of the same potentially dangerous coin. Social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace are becoming the realm of very young, impressionable children, even though the minimum age limits on these sites is usually set at 13. Instant messaging services can also be channels by which feelings can be hurt and innocence can be subverted if not properly monitored. Software packages which automatically detect when a child is involved in an inappropriate conversation of any kind are available and you should use your judgement to decide whether or not your own child is mature enough to handle social networking and online chatting, with a level of discretion used in keeping tabs on their online activities.
The threat of malicious software and viruses is linked to identity theft, but can also be a computer-crippling bother which renders your beloved machine useless as it clogs your hard drive and covertly monitors your online actions. Protection against viruses is always evolving and changing, because it is not tackling a static threat, but rather a significant global industry which produces new viruses constantly. Many providers which offer wireless broadband plans will also include free anti-virus and online security suites as part of a new deal. This is useful if you do not want to fork out for a subscription to an established anti-virus software package. There are also many excellent free tools to enable your home or business to fight the threat of identity theft, viral infection or cyber bullying. However, be careful to check up on the reputation of the vendor, as con artists can also create phoney anti-virus software which is actually riddled with malware.