Smart Rules for Using the Internet!
20 Steps to Staying Safe

The Internet is an unsafe place. It is filled with international crooks trying to steal your identify, destroy your PC with viruses and malware, or use your PC without your knowledge to send spam or emails containing viruses, trojans, keyloggers, and other malware. To think otherwise is to be quite foolish.

picture of a computer monitor

To understand the various malware threats, please see our tutorial What You NEED to Know About Malware.

Follow the 20 rules below and greatly minimize your changes of getting a virus or other malware that will cause damage to your computer or compromise your personal data.

Author: Keynote Support

  1. Use anti-virus software:

      Have a reliable anti-virus software program installed on your PC and complete a thorough scan of your hard disk drives weekly. Do not install more than one anti-virus program. Three popular free anti-virus software products according to are AVG Anti-Virus, Avast Free Antivirus, and Avira AntiVir Personal. Popular for-fee anti-virus programs are sold by McAfee, Kaspersky, ZoneAlarm, Norton, Panda, Trend Micro, and others.
  2. Use malware-scanning software:

      Have one or more reliable malware-scanning software programs installed on your computer. Complete a thorough scan of your hard disk drives weekly. Since spyware, adware, and other badware is so prevalent, it is best to use two or even three different malware-scanning programs. Popular free malware-scanning software per includes Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, Ad-Aware Free Anti-Malware, and Spybot - Search & Destroy.
  3. Use a Software Firewall:

      A firewall lets the computer user monitor requests from programs on the Internet wanting to access your computer, and requests from programs on your computer that want to access the Internet. Controlling program access to the Internet is important because some malware must "phone home" to download to your computer the files that cause the damage. Free and for-fee firewall programs are available - the most popular firewall being ZoneAlarm Free Firewall. Check out our tutorial, Using the Free ZoneAlarm Firewall.

  4. Use McAfee’s free SiteAdvisor software:

      Called website watchdog software, SiteAdvisor is a is free browser plug-in for Internet Explorer and Firefox in the Windows environment, and Firefox in the Mac environment. McAfee has tested millions of websites and SiteAdvisor identifies suspicious sites on your browser's "search results" screen. When surfing, don't click on any site that doesn't have the green button. This is not a guarantee that you won't land on a bad site, but it lowers your odds dramatically.
  5. Surf smart:

     Don’t click on pop-up ads. Don’t say ‘yes’ when a website wants you to download some cute thing.  Don’t sign up for free stuff … the purpose of the offer or contest is usually to get your email address. Don’t register on a site unless you’ve thoroughly checked it out; see what others say about the website. Make sure the website’s privacy policy ensures your privacy. And last, but not least, remember the #1 rule of surfing the Internet:  the more questionable the website, the more likely you will get infected.
  6. Only download software from reputable sites:

      Only download software from websites that have a reputation of thoroughly checking each application for spyware or malware. Read editors’ reviews and user reviews. Be aware that songs and other files downloaded from peer-to-peer programs like Limewire can be infected.
  7. Scan all downloaded files before opening:

      Have a designated folder for all downloads and specify the folder name in your browser settings. Before opening a downloaded file, scan it with your anti-virus software. On most systems, the option to scan will display on the right-click menu. If not, open the anti-virus software, browse for the file, and scan.
  8. Guard your email address:

      Treat it like your social security number. Do not give your email address to vendors, stores, and others who do not need it. When shopping online, use an Internet email address (see below). Also, when shopping read the company’s Privacy Policy. If there isn’t one, or if they admit to selling your personal information, don’t buy from them.
  9. Be careful opening email attachments:

     Opening an email attachment from a stranger is a guaranteed infection. But what if the email attachment comes from a friend? The rule of thumb is:  don’t open it unless you’re expecting it, or it is very personalized, I.e. JasonBirthday.jpg (and your friend’s son just had a birthday). Use common sense. Don’t open any attachment with innocuous sounding names like “havefun.exe.” Delete the email immediately.
  10. Never open an email from a stranger: 

    Many spam emails contain viruses and other malware in the actual email itself - not in an attachment. Delete these emails without opening them.
  11. Don't "unsubscribe" to a spam email:

      If you do open a spam email, don’t reply to it and don’t fall for the “click here to unsubscribe from our mailing list” scam. It’s a trick to get you to validate your email address.
  12. Don’t fall for phishing emails:

     Banks and other financial institutions don’t send emails requesting personal information. Never open an email from a financial institution unless it’s a reply to an email you sent them. These are Phishing emails from crooks trying to steal your identity. They send an urgent email needing your personal information updated or "your account will be frozen." Even though the URL in the hyperlink in the email looks legitimate, the actual URL is to the crooks' website - which looks just like the bank's website. If your financial institution wants to contact you, they will send you a letter.
  13. Have an Internet-only email address for shopping:

      Have one email address dedicated to friends and family who are security-minded, and have a free, “disposable” Internet-based email address (yahoo, gmail) for shopping and other Internet activities. If you get spam on the yahoo or gmail address, you can just delete the address and create a new one.
  14. Use Bcc: when forwarding emails and tell your friends to do the same:

      This is SO important. When folks pass along an email containing multiple email addresses in the To: line, they are broadcasting their friends' and others' email addresses to strangers as the email makes its rounds. Eventually, a spammer will get the email and all of the email addresses. Be nice to your friends. If you want to forward an email, put your address in the To: box and put your friends' addresses in the Bcc: box. [In Yahoo, after clicking Forward, click "Show bcc" underneath the From line. In Google, click Add Bcc.]
  15. Choose email addresses and passwords that aren't guessable:

      Spammers have programs that send out millions of emails at lightning speed to “guessed” email addresses. They also try to access financial accounts by trying easy passwords. Put some numbers or special symbols in your addresses and passwords.
  16. Spoof  your email address:

      Try to avoid newsrooms and forums that don’t let you mask your email address. If you have to use the website, then spoof it. Instead of typing, type bwilson at
  17. Set up message filters in your mail program:

      Most email programs like Outlook, Thunderbird, etc., can be setup to filter incoming emails. You can create rules that will delete emails that don’t specifically include your email address in the To: or Cc: fields. You can also create rules to block emails with certain undesirable words in the Subject Line.
  18. Use an anti-spam program:

     If spam has become a problem and you can’t change your email address and start anew, use anti-spam software which filters junk email out of your inbox and puts it into a special spam folder. Your ISP may have this function available for you.
  19. If you have your own website, don’t post your email address on it in text:

      Email scanners look at websites for email addresses. If you need to post your email address, put it in a graphic image (.gif or .jpg) or encrypt it in some way. Some folks use contact forms, but scammers regularly use these forms to send out spam.
  20. If you own a website, pay to have your Domain Name Registration information “unlisted”:

      It's a legal requirement that all domain names have valid contact information posted on the Internet and you can view this contact information on websites such as Spammers regularly visit the “whois” database to harvest email addresses. Make sure the web hosting company gives you the option to pay to have your information unlisted. What shows up instead for your domain is the contact information for your web hosting company.

We hope this article has been helpful. Cheers!

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