I can’t believe I did that!

There are some things you just can’t forget to do now that you are using computers and surfing the Internet.

There are some things you just can’t forget to do now that you are using computers and surfing the Internet. If you let your guard down and forget some simple basic principles, the result can be computer viruses, stolen identities, lost financial information, and worse. Here are some friendly tips that you must take to heart and work into your daily routines.

I can’t believe I ... never update Windows and other software installed on my computer. Windows update can be done automatically. Regularly discovered flaws in Windows allows hackers to infiltrate your computer. Some of these updates take some time and effort, but they are well worth doing. Keep in mind that Windows is not the only software vulnerable to attack, so be sure to check for updates for all software you use.

I can’t believe I ... never check for a secure connection when I purchase anything online. Most financial transactions are secure, but you do not want to divulge information such as credit card numbers on sites that do not take the necessary precautions. Whenever you buy something online or supply sensitive information, check for a secure connection by finding the closed-lock icon that appears on the bottom of the Web page. Click on this icon to view the site’s security details. Fraudulent sites will construct a page which mimics the lock on a browser page. Also check the IP address to be sure it reads “https.”

I can’t believe I ... have not installed anti-virus and anti-spyware software. This is kind of like being the person who will not wear a seat belt or a motorcycle helmet or someone who eats raw chicken. Enough said! Also, don’t be the person who installs the software, but never uses it or updates it. Just because the software is installed on your computer does not mean you are automatically protected. Set these programs to automatically search for, install, and run updates once or twice a week. If you cannot do this automatically, then write yourself a reminder to do it manually.

I can’t believe I ... open e-mail attachments without thinking twice about them. Even if you have anti-virus software, infected e-mails can slip between the cracks. When you get an attachment with an e-mail:

a) Do you know the person who sent you this attachment? Keep in mind that even if you know the person who sent you the attachment, a virus or worm can still be attached to the e-mail. Once many viruses infect your e-mail program, they can send themselves out to everyone in your address book without your knowledge.

b) What type of attachment is it? If it is an .exe file or .vbs file or an unknown type of file, do not open it.

I can’t believe I ... don’t back up data on my computer. If you regularly back up your information, you might be able to avoid the catastrophic loss of data through corruption, hardware crashes, viruses, or theft. You can back up your data using several types of media - recordable CDs, recordable DVDs, removable external drives, online backups, and more.

I can’t believe I ... write down my passwords and leave them sitting around. You want to create passwords that are not easy to remember. You can use a secure password program which encrypts and stores all of your passwords for you, but allows you to access them when needed. Never use words that are in the dictionary! You would not believe how easily a hacker can figure out passwords.

I can’t believe I ... don’t encrypt sensitive information on my computer. We keep our money and sensitive information locked away in banks. Why leave sensitive information unprotected on our computers? There are plenty of inexpensive encrypting programs on the market.

I can’t believe I ... don’t protect my wireless networks and broadband Internet connections. Default configurations are not very secure. Always use WEP or WPA to encrypt your network. Also, be sure and have a good firewall up and running.

I know you are thinking that security can be complex and a pain in the side to set up and maintain. A little common sense and prevention will go a long way. Don’t be that person who is telling everyone, “I can’t believe I ...”

Jeffrey B. Dalin, DDS, FAGD, FICD, practices general dentistry in St. Louis. He also is the editor of St. Louis Dentistry magazine, and spokesman and critical-issue-response-team chairman for the Greater St. Louis Dental Society. Contact him by e-mail at jeff@dfdasmiles.com, by phone at (314) 567-5612, or by fax at (314) 567-9047.

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