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20 Sep 2008 - Basic Site Security

This is an article I wrote for The London Neighbourhood Watch Association, which in light of recent events may be a useful read here too.

Basic Internet Security

The internet is a vast and interesting place, where you can make friends, do your shopping, research any subject, communicate in many different ways or just play games. It has revolutionized so many things in our lives mostly for the better.

It is like a world within our computers, yet so many people visit that world without taking any precautions against the pitfalls and dangers that mirror the real world in many ways.

As you are on a forum and member interactive website, we will stick to security directly relating to that.

Firstly, never give out your personal details to a stranger, even someone you have got to know online over a period of time may not be who or what you think they are.

Avoid using your real name in forums, this is why a user name can be given, pick one that you like, either your first name, or something more personal to you. After all, if someone wants to trace you for malicious reasons, they won't be able to locate you unless they involve the police.

Don't put your email address online, as that can be tracked by what are called 'bots' which are automatic programs that 'harvest' emails to sell on to spammers (people sending junk email). If you do need to display your email for some reason, change it, for example yourname@btinternet.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it becomes yourname (at) btinternet (dot) com, as you can see even though it is transcribable by a human, an automated program cannot understand it and moves on. Our site, however offers Private Message system, so as to avoid these issues.

If you receive an email allegedly from this or any other site asking you to login using a link in the email, do not follow that link, as this may be a spoof email sending you to another site which may look identical, but is designed to capture your login details, including your password, it is very common for spoofs like this to appear to come from your bank or ebay, this practice is called 'phishing' as they are fishing for your data. So always goto the site by typing in the address you know or using a saved link in your browser.

Check the software the site you are on is using, is it upto date? A quick check of any copyrights often at the bottom of the page cross referanced with the softwares homepage should help here. If it isn't upto date it can be vulnrable to a hacking attempt, so be a good net citizen and email the administrator of the site, it may be an over sight, so they should be glad of the warning, but till it gets updated be more cautious of any content you add and use a password unique to that site so it can't be used to access other sites you use.

Also be very concious of where you go online, after all would you go to the rough part of town at night without being at least a little watchful of people lurking about. So if you wander into a part of the internet that is occupied by unsavery content, expect unsavoury people, and dodgy deals.

It may all sound a little scary, but by following this simple advice you will be able to protect yourself onlin