Internet Safety: 7 Steps to Keeping Your Computer Safe on the Internet

The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet – FREE EditionSubscribe to The Ask Leo! Newsletter and get the 88-page Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet – FREE Edition digital download as a gift. Based in part on this article, the Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet – FREE Edition will help you identify the most important steps you can take to keep your computer and yourself safe as you navigate today’s digital landscape.

Viruses and spyware and worms … oh my!

The very concept of “internet safety” is almost an oxymoron these days.

It seems not a day goes by that we don’t hear some new kind of threat aimed at wreaking havoc across machines connected to the internet.

Here are some things you can (and should) do to stay safe.

Read moreInternet Safety: 7 Steps to Keeping Your Computer Safe on the Internet

Do I Need a Firewall, and If So, What Kind?

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I keep hearing about “firewalls” for my computer and that there are different types. Do I need one? If I do, what kind of firewall do I need?

The very short, very easy answer is: hell yes! Absolutely, positively you need a firewall.

With all that happens on the internet these days, it’s simply too risky to let your computer sit “naked” on the internet unless you really know what you’re doing. The real question is what kind of firewall do you need?

The very good news these days is that it’s very likely that you’re already behind a firewall and don’t need to do a thing.

But you should make sure.

Read moreDo I Need a Firewall, and If So, What Kind?

Can I run more than one anti-malware program or firewall? Should I?

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With regards to firewalls, anti-virus programs and anti-spyware programs; can I have more than one of each of these programs installed in my computer? For example, I run ZoneAlarm; does that mean I should I turn off Windows firewall?

In recent years this question has become more complex than ever.

There are certain types of protection you need, and getting all that protection may involve running more than one program.

On the other hand, running more than one program of the wrong type can, indeed, cause problems.

Let’s see if I can’t sort this out for you.

Read moreCan I run more than one anti-malware program or firewall? Should I?

If My Anti-virus is Working Properly, Do I Still Need a Firewall?

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I’m second year computer science student in college. Some of my peers and other IT professionals keep telling me that in order to work well on your computer without anything coming into your way (like having some important pop-ups denied or having some authenticate downloads denied) you need to turn off the firewall. They say as long as you have an up-to-date anti-virus software you’re safe. How true is this and can I really be safe with my firewall off? Again, considering that I have a perfectly working anti-virus software.

Basically, I disagree with what people have been telling you. I actually disagree fairly strongly.

Yes, you need a firewall. And no, a firewall isn’t going to prevent some kind of pop-up or authentic download that you initiate.

Read moreIf My Anti-virus is Working Properly, Do I Still Need a Firewall?

Does a VPN give me complete security?

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I recently signed up with a personal VPN service for several reasons. I’d like an unbiased opinion of their value in terms of real security, privacy, etc., and also the potential unintended consequences of using them. I like the idea of having my email completely secured. No tracking (by Google or Bing) of my searches and portability to public hotspots. But I’ve also read that because VPN tunnels through my router’s NAT firewall, I might be giving up a valuable layer of security when I use it at home.

I use a robust anti-virus firewall of course, but I know you recommend a NAT firewall as a strong first line of defense against internet attacks. Are there other potential downsides to casual use? I’m not recommending one “pay for” service over another, but I happened to sign up with Witopia and I’m quite satisfied so far. Thanks for any thoughts on the subject.

I’m a little concerned that there may be some fundamental misunderstandings of exactly what a VPN does and what it does not get you.

To be clear, a VPN does nothing more than encrypt and route all of your internet traffic through the VPN provider’s server. That’s it. What happens after that server actually doesn’t change.

Is your email completely secured? That depends on what you mean.

Read moreDoes a VPN give me complete security?

How Do I Keep My Computer from Being Hacked at Night?

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I’m online sometimes late night into the morning. Being an IT student, I’ve read about hackers using the night to scan for active IP addresses and hack it using back doors for fun. Can you recommend any free software that can help prevent back door attacks and work alongside my anti-virus and my Windows firewall? Also, should I change from Windows firewall?

To be honest, I’ve never, ever heard of this so-called nighttime scanning. I wouldn’t believe it if I did. It’s always nighttime somewhere and the internet is global.

My servers are located somewhere in Michigan, but hackers from China try to hack into them at all hours of the day. It  happens constantly. The reality is that any computer connected to the internet is being attacked in one form or another pretty much all the time.

It’s one of the reasons why tech people like me speak so religiously about anti-malware tools and firewalls. But there are a couple of different ways to discourage hackers from choosing you.

Read moreHow Do I Keep My Computer from Being Hacked at Night?