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Tech-Friendly: Be wary of links from unknown senders

June 12, 2013

By Paul Gorski

A friend recently asked that I write more about safe computing, but there’s so much to safe computing that I can’t pack it all into a single article. So, I will work on a series of articles addressing safe computing.

Imagine now I am being shipped off to war, a scene from a World War II movie, I’m hanging on the edge of a train saying goodbye to my sweetheart. If I only had time for a few words on safe computing for my sweetie, I’d proclaim “Denise, don’t click on links from unknown senders or financial institutions, and apply system security updates automatically!” Not very romantic, but important security advice in today’s computing environment. I suppose today I could just text her.

Computer Security 101: don’t click on links in e-mails from financial institutions that open with the greeting “Dear Cardholder” or “Valued Customer.” Your bank and credit card companies know who you are, and their e-mails should address you by first and last name, and should even list the last few digits of your account number. Anything short of that is a scam or a lousy e-mail campaign from that financial institution.

Even then, don’t be afraid to call your financial institution if you have any questions at all about a suspicious e-mail. Don’t give your personal information to someone online that you wouldn’t share with in person.

The major security threat for individuals today isn’t someone hacking your computer; it is convincing you to volunteer giving personal and financial information to “really bad dudes,” either through bad e-mail links or misdirecting you to malicious websites. While a hacker could get a program onto your computer to follow your financial transactions, it is a lot easier to send you to a phony website and have you volunteer the information.

By the way, I’m pretty certain most of my Rockford friends and neighbors don’t have a long-lost relative from Serbia, Russia or Nigeria who left them a $625,010 inheritance, so don’t send your your bank account and Social Security numbers to some unknown lawyer or “barrister” in a foreign country to claim your money. These scam e-mails have been around for years.

Also under Security 101, apply Windows and Mac OS X security updates regularly, if not automatically. Sometimes security updates can “break” programs on your computer. For the average user, though, I recommend having your computer set up to accept security updates automatically and to risk the occasional hiccup that arises after a security update.

For more about Windows system update settings, visit: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/help/windows-update. If you have a Macintosh computer, visit: http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1338 for information on updating Mac OS X 10.8. Links to update instructions for older Mac OS X versions are also listed at this page.

I’ve written previously about Adobe Flash and Oracle Java security, “Tech-Friendly: Install Java and Flash security updates now,” Jan. 16-22, 2013, issue. I encourage you to re-read that article and apply those updates as necessary.

I don’t provide general computer hardware or software installation support, so if you need help installing these updates, contact a tech-savvy friend or your local computer store.

Future security articles will cover: antivirus programs (a must have), social media security, and backing up your important files and e-mails. Send me, paul@paulgorski.com, your topic wish list, and I may get to those, too.

Paul Gorski (www.paulgorski.com) has been a technology manager nearly 20 years, specializing in workflow solutions for printing, publishing and advertising computer users. Originally destined to be a chemist, his interest in computers began in college when he wrote a program to analyze data from lab instruments he hard-wired to the back of an Apple IIe.

From the June 12-18, 2013, issue

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