Securing your Email
Your computer is at risk! Potentially unwanted program alert! Protect your computer from infection!
We are bombarded with these and similar messages almost everywhere we go on the internet these days. In fact, it’s such a common message that it’s easy for these messages to have the opposite effect, making us so used to them that we ignore them as just a part of daily life – especially when these messages are coming from antivirus companies advertising in the middle of all the free websites we visit.
But now with even our operating systems preventing us from downloading certain types of files, is it really that dangerous to use the internet, or just a scare campaign to make us buy the latest protection software?
Internet security can be split into two basic types:
- Stopping other people from intercepting information you send across the web
- Stopping other programs from installing themselves on your computer.
We can’t really stop other people intercepting our information – we can only make it illegible to everyone except our intended recipient. SSL is the method used to encrypt information on certain websites – especially websites that are used to process credit cards. It’s an ingenious mathematical method relying on the sheer size of the numbers used – it would take someone millions of years to work out the message by trial and error, even with the fastest computers available.
You know you’re on a secure website when the address begins with https:// instead of http://, and often the address bar will turn green.
So that’s great for buying things – but what about securing your email? There are a few important things to remember to avoid when dealing with your own email account.
Security Essential: Tip #1
Never send personal information over email
- This is especially true when it comes to your credit card details. Anyone who you need to send this information to on the internet should have SSL or similar encryption on the area of their website looking after this. If you need to inform a friend of these details, call them up and tell them directly – you can never be sure where your emails will end up once you send them out.
Security Essential: Tip #2
- Use a strong password
- Never use a password related to any part of your life that could be easily discovered. The worst examples are your middle name, your partner or children’s names, any address you have lived at, your pet’s name… you get the idea. The strongest passwords are a mixture of letters and numbers, and at least eight characters long – any hackers trying to work out your password by trial and error will take more time the longer your password is.
Security Essential: Tip #3
- Use encryption where ever possible
- Your email account
- Make sure your email account uses PGP encryption security.
- Your wireless connection
- Make sure your wireless is set to use WPA2 encryption – the wireless connection between your router and computer is the most vulnerable area of your network.
Security Essential: Tip #4
- Your email account
- Scan all your emails with one of the top anti-virus packages
- You can set your antivirus to automatically scan your emails – it should set itself up to do this by default but it’s always best to make sure. There are some great websites showing an impartial comparison between anti-virus packages, both free and paid ones.
Security Essential: Tip #5
- Make sure your anti-virus is always turned on
- There are almost no reasons to have to turn your anti-virus off to install a program you download. Anything that asks you to do so should be treated suspiciously.
Security Essential: Tip #6
- Make sure your anti-virus is set to update automatically
- New viruses are discovered constantly & not updating your anti-virus every day can mean your computer is vunerable almost immediately.
Security Essential: Tip #7
- Make sure you let your anti-virus scan your computer regularly
- It’s easy to skip this, especially with older computers that slow down when these scans take place. Give your computer the time it needs to check itself. If the scan does take a significant amoutn of time, I suggest leaving it scan overnight so it doesn’t impinge on your work day.
Security Essential: Tip #8
- Set up your firewall correctly
- Check the list of programs that are allowed to connect to the internet – turn off anything you don’t actually use for web tasks.
Security Essential: Tip #9
- Be suspicious of anything that pops up
- Especially offers of things for free
- Especially things that look like they’re from banks, internet companies etc
- Especially things that ask you to click a button or a link
Security Essential: Tip #10
Read about phishing
- Phishing is when an unknown person emails you with secret offers of wealth or stories of hardship. Probably the best known are the Nigerian princes leaving you $200,000 dollars from an inheritance. While this story sounds inconceivable it has worked for 10 years on countless people. I new scam that has popped up in Queensland is much less ambitious but probably nets more people- that of; share accomodation where they ask for a deposit sight unseen and then organise to meet at the property only for the victim to find the house is already occupied but someone completely unrelated.
With the internet so integrated into our lives and our society, security for our computers is as important as security for our house – except that we have many more people trying to break into our computers than into our homes.
Something, at least, to be thankful for!