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Expert's tips for safer surfing

March 16, 2007|Tami Abdollah | Times Staff Writer

Here are some tips for safer Internet surfing from Roland Dobbins, a network engineer who helps develop security solutions for Cisco Systems.

Do it yourself

Connect and disconnect from the Internet manually by right-clicking on the wireless Internet icon and either enabling or disabling the connection. This prevents your computer from automatically searching out possibly fake Internet access points without your knowledge.

Be unique

Change the default names of your network from "Linksys" to a unique name (not your home address), and change any default passwords as soon as possible.

Don't share

Keeping your network open or allowing others access to shared files leaves a big hole in your system for hackers. Deactivate all sharing. If you must share because you are on a corporate network, make sure you change the settings when you are outside the office.

Be selective

In the computing world promiscuity is a sure way of getting a virus or attracting a hacker. Connect to "infrastructure" points, or official access points, rather than "peer-to-peer" connections, or another user's computer. Set your network connections to only connect to infrastructure points. (The default searches for all open hotspots.)

Sensitive must be secure

Only do sensitive computing -- banking or anything else you would hate to have a hacker gain access to -- on your personal, wired (to the wall) home computer.

Make sure you enable at least "WEP," a basic encryption on your computer, when setting up your home network. The default setting is usually no encryption.

Stay trendy

This means making sure your browser, all your antivirus software and firewalls are up to date. Stop clicking the delay button, and have antivirus software and firewalls updated on your computer.

Be wary

If you get an e-mail from your bank, make sure the e-mail is indeed from your bank, and that you are being routed to the bank. Put your cursor over the link and look at the address, or right click on properties and see where it will lead you. Always go to the bank site via its main site in a new window, not via a link in an e-mail.

Also, if your computer pops up with a security certificate warning, do not click away without inspecting the certificate and the signature. Even then, certificates are easily faked. If you must continue using the Internet, do not do anything sensitive. Best thing to do? Sign off.

Go exclusively corporate

If you can, use a Virtual Private Network while surfing wirelessly.

...And if you fail?

Computers get compromised all of the time. Your reaction can save you a lot of agony. First, turn off your computer immediately, do not reboot, and disconnect it. Then call your help desk. Once you get your computer back up, change all passwords.*

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