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The Online Mom provides internet technology advice and information to help parents protect their kids, encourage responsible behavior and safely harness the power of technology in the new digital world. Social networking, photo sharing, video games, IM & texting, internet security, cyberbullying, educational resources, the latest on tech hardware, gadgets and software for kids 3-8, tweens and teens, and more.

7 Steps to Improved Online Security

A week doesn’t go by without reading about some new virus that is attacking computers all over the world. Meanwhile, phishing scams, malware, worms and spam continue to be everyday threats. If you haven’t already done so, then it’s a good idea to protect your personal information and data by installing the latest security software.

But there are other things we can do to help protect ourselves; things that should be second nature but end up being forgotten as we surf the Web or rush to catch-up on e-mail. They are the good computer security habits that can go a long way to making sure we stay ahead in the constant battle to keep cyber-safe.

1. Create strong passwords

This is one recommendation you have heard a hundred times but one which can’t be stressed enough. Mix letters, numbers and symbols to make your passwords more secure. Don’t fall into the trap of using the same password to log in to multiple web sites; if one site gets hacked, then you are vulnerable everywhere else. And don’t store all your passwords on a Word file on your computer. This is one situation where you should go old-school and revert to pen and paper!

2. Adjust your security settings

Windows and Mac OS all have multiple security settings, as do the popular browsers like Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and Firefox. Make sure the settings are appropriate for your computer and are adjusted for each individual user.

3. Check for security patches and software updates

Both Microsoft and Apple offer regular updates and software patches to protect against viruses and security flaws. Make sure your computer regularly checks for updates or visit the appropriate web page to get the latest download. (Windows users can get security updates here.)

4. Use disposable e-mail addresses

If you have to register at a little-used web site, then consider using a one-off Gmail address or another disposable e-mail. While it doesn’t make sense to do this for a web site that you visit frequently, it can dramatically cut down on the amount of spam or phishing e-mail that your receive.

5. Avoid unsecure Wi-Fi networks

Avoid logging on to open Wi-Fi networks, however tempting it might be. Free Wi-Fi networks in big cities and airports are highly susceptible to viruses, malware and even key-logging software to capture passwords and other data entry. Be particularly careful not to engage in any banking or other financial transactions while using an unsecure network. (Smartphone owners should take advantage of their secure hotspot features.)

6. Curb your web surfing

This might be hard for itinerant web surfers (i.e. all of us) but at least be more careful about the sites that you visit. Despite popular belief, it’s not just porn sites that are dangerous. In fact, in its 2013 Transparency Report, Google reveals that malware is far more likely to come from legitimate sites that have been hacked and compromised than from so-called "attack" sites. Don’t click on links unless you have to, and pay attention to those warnings about missing or mismatched security certificates!

7. Backup your data

OK, you have heard this one hundreds of times as well but this time you really have to do it! The stories of computer crashes, corrupted hard drives and data-destroying viruses are just too common to ignore. Plus, with Windows 7 or Windows 8 it’s never been easier. Ten minutes every week will provide you with a lifetime of peace of mind!

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