In many ways, the internet today resembles a digital version of the wild, wild west. There are a lot of ways that you can potentially open up your computer and allow “bad guys” in. Then you have companies like Symantec that turn all this into a game of “cops and robbers”, with your PC as the battleground and your wallet as collateral. This is not to say that companies like Symantec don’t have a purpose. They certainly do, and they help guard your computer against “bad guys” when you are stupid enough to allow them in in the first place.

If you are using a computer, you need to obey certain laws of common sense so that you don’t give your computer away as an early Christmas present to some hacker. These basic laws of common sense are:

  1. Do not click on any links in an email which is not solicited.
  2. Do not install little-known shareware applications to your computer.
  3. Not hanging out with the “bad guys” means you’re a lot less likely to get zapped by them. This means you’re a whole lot safer when you’re not surfing warez sites, porn sites, and other sites of questionable material. The owners of such sites usually have a lower sense of ethics and you’re more likely to encounter PC infections on such sites.

Now, there are more than 9 ways to give your PC over to hackers. But, I am going to focus on some of the “biggies” that I see people do. I don’t fault people if they have done some of these things. It’s really easy to trust everybody until they prove otherwise, but unfortunately, that’s risky when you’re talking about the internet.

So, without further ado, here are 9 ways you can hand your PC (or your identity) over to hackers, spyware applications, and advertising agencies.

  1. Downloading Warez
    Warez software is unlicensed software. There are those who actively try to find and install paid software for free by finding cracked software and installing it. Besides the fact that this is illegal, it also opens you up to computer viruses.
  2. Downloading or Surfing Porn
    Sorry, guys. But, porn sites have a much higher likelihood of trying to employ questionable tactics and compromising your web browser. Sure, today’s browsers have safeguards built in now, but the dangers are still there. If you’re trying to keep your PC totally clean, you’re better off staying off of these kinds of sites.
  3. Clicking a Link in ANY email about your “account”.
    Common phishing schemes employ emails which LOOK like they came from Ebay, Paypal, your bank, etc. They will say that something on your account needs attention, and “click here” to log in and deal with it. The email is designed to look exactly like the real thing, except for the minor fact that the real company would likely NEVER send you an email like that. If the email is a fake, clicking on that link will take you to a page which LOOKS like the real thing, but is actually a fake page which is designed to get your account login information. And you can only imagine what the person will do once they get your account information. Never do anything with these emails. If you suspect it could be real, then go to your account BY HAND in your web browser, not by clicking anything in the email.
  4. Accepting online greeting cards.
    These things really piss me off because they take advantage of the human need for friendship. You will get an email saying somebody sent you a greeting card, but to get the card you have to install some “special” software to your computer. Nine times out of ten that software will be rife with spyware. Do NOT fall for this crap unless you enjoy random popup ads when you’re just trying to use Microsoft Word.
  5. Not Using a Firewall.
    If your computer is connected to the internet using an always-on connection (like cable, DSL or fiber optic), then you absolutely need a firewall. A firewall will provide a line of defense between your computer and the outside world, like a mote to a castle. Most routers today have a hardware-based firewall built right in which is completely adequate. NEVER plug your computer directly into the modem. I highly recommend using a router or, at the very least, using a software-based firewall.
  6. Not Securing Your Wireless Network.
    If you have wireless in your home (and most do today), then you need to secure the network. If you do not, then anybody can casually get on and use your home network from outside your home. And if you have any files shared on your computer, they may very well be able to get to them from outside. Some ISPs today (like Verizon’s FIOS service) supply routers with the wireless security already on. But, if you buy a wireless router, don’t do anything else until you have set up wireless security.
  7. Casually Installing Freeware or Shareware
    Now, I say “casually” here because I definitely don’t want to say you can’t install shareware or freeware. What I am trying to say, though, is to exercise some caution when doing so. There is a lot of freeware out there (usually the lesser known ones) that loads your PC up with spyware upon installation. For example, Kazaa is a file-sharing application that, when installed, will inundate your computer with adware. If you do not know about a particular program you are thinking of installing, try searching Google for it and see what others are saying. If it has an adware problem, people will complain.
  8. Responding to Junk Mail
    Don’t ever respond to SPAM. I emphasize commercial spam. If it is a newsletter or something, it isn’t spam because, chances are, you signed up for it and don’t remember. But, if the email is obvious spam (home mortgages, sex ads, viagra, some home business opportunity, etc), it is junk. Don’t ever reply and ask them to remove you from the list. It is a lost cause, and it only tells them that they have a real email address (which means you’re sure to get MORE spam for your troubles). If the email is coming from a trusted source, they will usually not hide the address they are sending from and will publish a physical address in the email. You can also verify in your web browser the site who sent the email.
  9. Fill out a form in an email.
    NEVER, EVER fill out and submit a form which is directly in an email message. Email is the most insecure medium there is, and you have no way of knowing where that data is going. I’ve even gotten emails in the past with forms in them asking for PIN #s. You GOT to be kidding me!

And there you have it, 9 easy steps to give a gift of love to your favorite hacker, identity thief or spammer.