Research Notes

Research Safely Online

Online research often takes us into new (to us) and unusual areas of the Internet. In order to keep ourselves, our computers and our existing data safe, there are a few precautions that need to become second nature. These include:

  • Make sure you keep your operating system and applications updated. When security issues are discovered and fixed, the software company issues an update. Installing these updates reduces your system’s vulnerability to an attack.
  • Regularly update your antivirus data files. New viruses and other nasties are created all the time. Just having antivirus software installed on your computer isn’t enough. You must make sure you have the data on all the latest nasties to insure your system is protected. Most antivirus apps include an automatic update option. Find it and turn it on!
  • Use only a current web browser. Older versions of web browsers – especially Internet Explorer – have many security holes that can put your computer and personal information at risk. If you are using an older version of Windows and can’t update your Internet Explorer until you update Windows, install a different browser. Both the Firefox and Chrome browsers can operate on older Windows systems without security issues.
  • Limit the number of cookies stored in your web browser. Cookies are small files saved on your computer by web sites you visit so they can remember information about you the next time you visit. Look into your browser’s preferences settings and limit cookies to just sites you visit. There’s usually a setting to block “third party” sites. These are usually set by advertisers on a site you visit who want to track you as you browse. Turn third party blocking on.
  • Before entering personal or financial information on a web form, check to see that its a “secure” page. The URL or web address for a secure page will begin with https://. The “s” means that the information sent between your browser and the web site will be encrypted before it is transmitted, making it difficult for someone else to steal your info.
  • Use secure passwords (at least 12 characters long and a combination of letters, numbers and special characters) and change them often.
  • Watch for phishing attacks – attempts to get your personal information or passwords. When that scary popup tells you there are dozens of viruses on your computer and click here to fix it – DON’T. Open your antivirus program on your computer and run a check using it. When you get an email stating there’s an issue with your checking account and you need to log in to fix it, don’t follow the link provided in the email. Use the link you normally use to access your account and check the message area the bank provides for issues. It’s always a good idea to know what your bank’s policy is on notifying customers about problems so you can identify phishing attacks – and delete them.

Yes, these are common sense tasks you should perform whether you’re researching or not. Because you are researching, these tasks are even more vital.

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