Sunday, April 24, 2005

Ten Things You Should Know... About Using the Internet

We are having our yearly customer conference this week, and my team creates the portal and other web tools used by our customers to get information about our company, tools to better maket and sell their (and our) products, and manage their orders with us.

I put together this list of "Ten things you should know about using the internet" for our customers. In order to get to our web sites, they need to have working systems, and many of the calls we get are just plain "how do I use the computer?" and "why is my internet connection
so darn slow?" questions.

The assumption here is that PCs are being used, and not Apple Computers. If you have an Apple, you need to update the patches as well (see #4). Apple does a good job of making this easy.

Since I think these tips will help all internet users, Uncle Mark is passing them along here!

  1. Always use a computer virus control program, and update it daily.

Using antivirus software is a necessity if you are using the internet. If you are not using antivirus software, you will be infected. Virus infections can destroy your computer information, forcing you to erase everything and rebuild the system. Email viruses will tie up your system and spread malicious emails to all of your friends and family.

Virus software must be updated daily. When a new virus is introduced, it can spread globally in just a few hours, so you need to be up to date at all times. The standard packages make this easy to do – just set it and forget it.

Symantec and McAfee are the standard vendors of antivirus software. The cost is around $50. Well worth it.

  1. Always use a firewall when connecting to the internet.

Attaching your computer to the internet exposes it to the entire internet community, including hackers and other purveyors of mischief. Home and small office PCs that are not protected by firewalls are commonly commandeered by hackers to store illicit information or are used in attacks on other computers. This often happens without the computer’s owner knowing it is going on. A good firewall is the answer to this problem. A “firewall” is a program that runs on your computer or on your internet router (the device that you use to connect to the internet) that prevents anyone from connecting to your computer, unless you want them to. You have to have one.

McAfee and Symantec make personal firewalls, as does ZoneAlarm. LinkSys and other internet routers have firewalls built in to them, and are a better choice if you have a high-speed internet connection.

  1. Use a computer that was built in the 21st century.

Windows 95 and Windows 98 were great when they came out, and the Pentium III was a fine computer chip “back in the day.” Those days are over. You need a computer with a Pentium 4 chip or better, at least 512 Megabytes of memory, a lot of disk space, and Windows XP Professional in order to take full advantage of the web and applications like Quicken and Microsoft Office. The good news is that computers are getting more affordable every year -- $1000 will get you a computer today that blows the doors off anything you could buy for $5000 five years ago.

  1. Update your Microsoft Windows patches regularly.

Microsoft is the largest software company in the world. Every hacker in the world wants to “get Microsoft,” and every security company wants to get the “cred” that comes with finding a valid Windows security flaw. Add to that the fact that Windows is huge and complicated, and thereby prone to errors. That adds up to software flaws that can allow hackers to compromise your computer. What to do? Use the Windows Update Service to automatically keep your computer up to date on their software system “patches” – updates that fix newly discovered flaws.

  1. Get your own Internet domain name and email address.

Having your own internet domain name, like “,” gives you a permanent “location” on the web and gives your site credibility. With your own domain, you can set up email accounts on the domain instead of using free email providers like hotmail or yahoo, or AOL, adding credibility to your business. Companies like “” allow you to register and manage internet names and set up email accounts cheaply and easily.

  1. Get a high-speed internet connection.

If you are using a dial-up modem to connect to the internet, you are not able to use the web to its maximum. In fact, it gets frustrating. If you are in an area that offers high speed access, like cable or DSL, you should sign up. You will find that it will not only make using the portal a much better experience, but other sites, like your bank, will be much better as well.

  1. Using a wireless network? Be secure!

You can buy a wireless internet router for $80 these days. When you set them up, it is tempting to just open up the connection so that anyone can use it. Don’t! Doing so allows people you do not know to access your computer’s information with very little security. You should set up, at the very least, a “WEP” key on the device that you also have on your wireless laptop or computer. This encrypts the wireless traffic and keys out prying eyes. The router manuals are pretty clear about how to set this up, and Windows XP makes wireless relatively easy.

  1. Keep “Spyware” off your system.

Spyware are programs that collect and send marketing information to other companies. “Spyware” are programs that offer you some little service – the “Weatherbug” that shows you current weather, for example – that you install on your computer. From then on, information about what you do on the internet is sent to the spyware software’s company. The net result is twofold: One, your privacy can be compromised, and two, the spyware programs load down your computer to a crawl. Anti-spyware Programs such as Spybot and Ad-Aware can detect and remove spyware from your system.

  1. Don’t fall for Internet scams!

Email makes it really easy to send messages to people. In the blink of an eye, you can send an email to one million people, for virtually no money. Because of this, unsolicited email, also known as “Spam,” is a huge problem – in terms of wasted time, wasted computer resources, and offensive or illegal content.

Some criminals send out messages that look just like they came from a legitimate bank or other financial institution, making it look like your account will close if you do not “take action.” The email messages have a link to a site that looks just like the bank’s site – but it isn’t. When you enter your personal information – passwords, social security numbers, PINs, etc., they now have access to your accounts. Some victims have lost thousands of dollars from these thieves.

How do you avoid? There is no automatic way to avoid these scams. Just be wary, and if you have any real questions about an email from your “bank,” call them directly on the telephone.

  1. Back up your stuff!

This is number 10, but really it’s the first rule of computing. Always, always, always back up your computer’s information. You can never know when a computer’s disk will fail, or when a power surge will fry the motherboard, or when someone will spill a Pepsi on the computer. Back your stuff up, and all you have lost is time.

The backup medium of choice for homes or small businesses is CDs, and now you can get drives that can write to DVDs as well. Roxio makes a good program that helps the process of backing data up to CD or DVD.

The internet is an amazing phenomenon and has changed the way many companies do business. The tips above will help you get the most out of it.