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Conservative Clicking

September 30th, 2009 1 comment
I’d like to offer advice to all those interested in internet security. Through my time on the internet I’ve discovered the best free method to keeping your computer clean.

DON’T CLICK ON ANYTHING YOU DOUBT.

Period.

Unless someone is really trying to get you, most of the time this method will work.

Some important points to click conservatively:

  • If you feel like you need to click a link, hover over it first, look in the bottom left and you will see its url (web address), using some common sense you will get an idea as to it being suspicious or not. A good hint is if it redirects (goes to a completely different .com,net,org,etc.) you to somewhere it appears it shouldn’t. Images and videos are common culprits of poor clicking. You’ll see an image of a Youtube video, for example, and you click to play it without thinking, and BAM: popups, “updating virus scans” (hint: they’re giving you malicious codes), or even the blue screen of death. In these cases, make sure you scan the url on any slightly unfamiliar sites.
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  • Don’t click on ads. I know that some of them are genuine, but why risk it? Besides, do you really need what it is offering? If an ad piques your interest, I’d suggest not going through the advertisement, but instead go through the front page of whatever product you are interested (a simple search will direct you there). Users of Firefox can download AdBlock (a program which removes ads from web pages) here.
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  • If you get a chain e-mail, don’t open any attachments (or don’t read it at all).
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  • Any suspicious e-mail, regardless of the sender or title, delete it without opening it. (Common sense goes a long way in this case).
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  • If you are given a link to tinyurl.com/ (insert random characters here), then it helps to preview it. If you don’t know, tinyurl.com shortens (or simply changes) urls to one based on their server which then redirects you to the shortened link. So, theoretically, a terrible person could send you a terrible link saying it is something else. TinyURL Preview Feature is the place to go for previewing. Now, if you’ve learned anything so far, you’d have hovered an checked the url first.
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  • Another deceptive way that terrible people can affect your computer is through fake codecs, or media plugins. What happens is, you are directed to some supposed video which you really want to see, like “Barney the dinosaur punching off Big Bird’s Beak. You attempt to watch the video, but, alas, you need to install the latest Somethingortheother Plugin. So, you oblige this obscure, sure to be media mogul, because, after all, you really feel like having your childhood memories tainted this afternoon. Then what happens? It installs, but the video doesn’t play! A shame, really, but there is good news! You’re computer has been infected. Damn you Barney! (I’ve always been more of a Sesame Street guy anyway). Most of the time reputable sites you regularly visit (Youtube, C|net sites, news sites, etc.) will keep you updated with necessary plugins, but if not, do some research on what ever it is you are trying to download.
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  • Don’t accept downloads of anything you didn’t mean to download. Like, if you are trying to view a neat shot of the newest “it” star in Hollywood, so you go to the site that has that ever so attractive twentysomething. But wait! In order to view this modern David (or Venus) you have to download the image. Here’s a hint: DON’T. Malicious code writers expect most people to want to see this image, so they make it a potential problem for your computing experience.
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  • If you happen to be using peer to peer software, such as limewire, to download a song (one with no copyright restrictions, because otherwise that would be illegal) there are a variety of things you need to look out for (especially in popular programs like limewire). For one, the file type is important; the average user will want .mp3 (generic music file), .m4a (iTunes music file), or .wmv(Windows Media Player file), so avoid OGG, FLAC, or other ominous file types unless you really know what you’re doing. The next thing you should look at is bitrate; the higher the bitrate, the better quality the music, but it also increases file size. It has been many years since I’ve used limewire, but there should be an option for the length of the song, make sure you correlate that length with the length of the actual song (Last.fm is a great resource for this, as well as many, many other music features). If there is no feature for length of the song on your p2p program, looking at the file size helps. Looking at your music will give you a rough idea of bitrate/file size vs. song length. An 3:00 mp3 at 192kbps (bitrate) is roughly 4.2MB, a 3:00 mp3 at 320kbps (the best/highest bitrate) is roughly 6.9MB; estimation skills come in handy.
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  • If you happen to be using a Torrent program and are downloading a (hopefully legal) .torrent of music see above. But, if you are downloading a video (again, legal) you may need to have the correct video codec to play it. In this case, with downloaded videos, these codecs are needed, but if you see that you have to go to an suspicious source (they often require you to register with their sites), I’d be wary. Instead of using Windows Media Player, Quicktime, or Real Player, I’d suggest downloading VLC Player, which has a wide variety of codecs built in, and will constantly update them (safely). VLC is a free, legal program. In my experience, VLC has played videos that more mainstream players could not (without, sometimes, having to go to some obviously untrustworthy sites). I’d highly suggest, if VLC or similar players can’t play the video, don’t go to extreme lengths to view it.
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  • And of course, even though this makes me sound like your high school homeroom teacher, don’t give out information about yourself on the internet unless you feel it is absolutely vital. Like any public place there are awful people on the internet who have more than the capacity to hurt you. Anything you post anywhere is viewable by anyone who really wants to see it (or in some cases by people who don’t really want to see it)

This list is certainly shallow is greatly augmented by an active and common sensical approach to using the internet. Any other tips for safely navigating “the tubes” are welcome here. The more comprehensive this topic becomes through our collective experience, the more useful it will be to veterans and novices alike.

I understand this is a rather cynical, cautious, and pessimistic view of the internet, but I have never had any problems with my computers, unless family members or others use it unsupervised.

John Dickenson

Originally posted Tuesday September 8, 2009 in the Discussion forum here.

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