Internet Security and Privacy - World Wide Web



There are different sorts of malicious software, some are called virii, others trojans, worms, dialers, keyloggers and so on. The main difference is that a virus rather will make the system visually malfunctioning, while the other sorts try to hide deeply into the system. Invisibly, they may steel your identity, gathering personal information, e-mail addresses and other information stored on your computer. They may change your internet settings, change your browser home- and search-pages and even try to connect to the internet without permission or even knowing of the user. That way, your home computer may become part of a network, used for malicious purposes (e.g. sending unsolicited mail or "spam"). In short, they make a serious threat to your privacy. Other software will not immediately steel something from your system, but use it to display advertisements beyond the control of the user. Although such software may inform the user about this during installation, that's not always obvious, and sometimes it may be hard to remove the advertisement program, even after un-installing the accompanying software.
Your system can become infected by downloading and installing malicious software from the web or by opening an infected e-mail attachment or code (see e-mail security). But fortunately it's relatively easy to avoid much of those treats by looking at the files and their extensions before opening them.
But is also possible to get your system infected by just visiting an internet website which is installing malicious code (e.g. "script") onto your computer. Scripts are intended and used for a variety of harmless things, such as creating visual effects and interactive elements on webpages, but unfortunately scripts can also do a lot of harm. You don't see anything while surfing, it's only afterwards you discover the unwanted results.

Indeed, your personal information, such as your surfing habits, the place you live in, all the data you send, and so on, has a big (commercial) value on the internet. So lots of sites will try to collect it. If such sites are into fair play (and to keep it legal in most states too) they will put a text somewhere on their homepage saying that they do collect personal information about you. And they will have a "privacy policy" where you can find what information is collected and where the information goes: will it be used only by the site you visited, or will it be given away (or sold) to other sites; and will the information gathered be linked to you in person (your personal computer) or will it only be send anonymously and relatively innocent and used for statistic purposes...

We'll look a bit deeper into it here...


One way to obtain information about who's visiting a website, is the use of so called "cookies". Cookies are small text-files which are saved to your computer, in most cases without you knowing it. The information stored in a cookie can be harmless or not, for there are some sorts of cookies, used for different purposes. Some are (relatively) harmless, such as the cookies used to temporary store information on your computer in order to remember your preferences or settings while you visit a certain website. When you leave the site, the cookie is automatically deleted. Those are called "session-cookies" for they expire at the end of your surf-session or visit.

But in most cases cookies will not be erased at all. They stay onto your computer and can be read-out and modified at your next visit to the website who put it there (and/or even by their affiliate sites).

Cookies are also very often used to collect personal information about your surfing habits and more (the so called "tracking cookies"). This, and the fact that the contents of a cookie can not be normally read-out by the user, makes it to be considered as a personal privacy/security threat.

In any case, if you want to protect your privacy, regularly go to your browser's security and privacy options, and cleanup all cookies and temporary internet files. You can also setup your browser to restrict or forbid the use of cookies. Then you will not be able anymore to see a lot of WebPages which don't want to give you information without them putting one or more cookies onto your system (see also protection on the web below).

Toolbars, Online Services and other

As information is valuable, many things are good to get it... So just don't click "yes" to install everything that may look fine, without knowing what it may be for real. Many sites offer you something "for free", and indeed, you don't have to pay money for it, but you will give something in return. Information, of course.

If a site offers you a free "tool bar" to make web-search easier or some online service to do some other useful things on your system, first remember to look for their "privacy policy", read about it and find out whether or not information will be collected, and if so, whether it's done in an harmless, anonymous way or not.


Those annoying little windows, you know... Well, get rid of them. Some browsers can block most cookies. To do this, go into the options menu of your browser and look for the cookies settings (in Internet Explorer 7.x you find it in the Tools menu; go to the Privacy tab in the Options menu). As an alternative, you can also use a pop-up killer program. Even if these settings or programs don't stop every single pop-up, it will be surely of great help.

Tip: sometimes it can help a bit to minimize the pop-up window, instead of closing it. This makes the delivering server think you're still reading it, while otherwise you can expect to receive another pop-up very fast.

Dialog-windows popping up

Let say, you're surfing the web and a window pops up, asking you to do or install something... Well, first thing to know is that if you like to stay on the safe side, you always select "no" (or "cancel") unless you do exactly understand what is going to happen when you install the item. And remember folks, this is not only true when surfing the web, but as a matter of fact, it's true in all computing things: if you don't understand it, don't do it, click "no" or "cancel" and don't take a risk. Sometimes the system will tell you that the item ready to be installed is verified by company "x" and thus safe to install. Check the company name, and if you're not sure who they are or what they do, don't install. After surfing a while, you will get automatically used to hear some names of companies and software, and then you can decide yourself what to install. (An example: when asked, you can safely click "yes" to install the Macromedia Flash Player).

Other threats on the web

Although the following has nothing to do with real virus-code and other crap, it often also may be considered as -at least- "malicious" code. When you start to surf the web, take time to learn, just don't click around everywhere and on anything you see...

It's sad to say, but a lot of WebPages are constructed to MISLEAD you, to make you click on things, redirecting you to pages you don't wanted to see. In most cases you can hit the "back" button of your browser to go back, but it's also possible to block this, or to open automatically a lot of other windows you don't have asked for.

Of course many of those annoying, mostly unwanted redirections to pages you didn't asked for, are commercial advertisements. Sometimes it seems the whole world is trying to sell you something. And many web-services are also paid by advertisements (e.g. an free web mail service). Otherwise the user had to pay for it, so in some cases it's seems to be a fair deal. At least, we can live with it. But only as long as everybody can decide for his- or herself what to see and not to see. That's the point. Advertising is everywhere around us, you can have your private opinion 'bout that and I have mine, but in any way, things must be open, transparent and fair. Misleading the user by making him or her click on things by mistake, or using some other technique to force users to see something they don't want or asked for is just unfair, irritant and a shame on the web.

So here are a few simple rules to help you avoid this. First of all, as said already, take your time to look at the text or buttons before clicking, is it really what you want or not... If you're still in doubt, then click with the right mouse-button (and not the standard left button). This will open the link (to the new webpage) in a new window. The window you were reading still remains in memory and on your screen behind the new one. So if you were mislead, or you don't want to read the new page, just close it. This works even when some malicious script took away your browser's "back" button for you don't need that button now, you just close the window with the normal standard close button, the little cross in the upper left corner of your screen.

By the way, those normal windows buttons are the only "real" buttons to close, minimize or maximize a window. Each time you see such a button somewhere else on your screen, let's say in a very windows-like window, even with windows controls or selection-lists on it... don't be fooled, these buttons are fake. They only will try to mislead you by making you think you can close a unwanted window by clicking there. In fact, they will redirect you to a webpage you never asked to see.

Many times is relatively simple to detect those fake-buttons by moving (without clicking!) your mouse-pointer over the suspected places. When the mouse-cursor changes into the "little-hand"-symbol and it stays like that, even when you move it off from the "button", then it's fake (you can try this out in the example below). No matter what you choose or where you click, you will always be redirected to a certain, mostly unwanted page. Well, don't click, that's all, let that window be there, you can't close it, but that doesn't matter. Just read what YOU want, click on what YOU want.

Well, maybe it's a good idea to finish with an example of such a typical window with those look-alike fake buttons. Remember that those buttons are created to mislead you. You can't use the "close"-button to remove it from your screen, neither does it matter which button you choose. Wherever you click on the window below, it leads you to a page you didn't wanted to see. Of course this is just an harmless example, you can try it out and afterwards you can close that new page popping up and return here. But remember, that's not always possible.





Protection on the web

The safest and easiest way to protect yourself without cost or trouble, is to go to the options of your browser-program and set the privacy- and safety protection levels to top-high. As this will merely block the execution of all scripts on a webpage, there's (nearly) no risk get infected anymore (remark: this deals with infections through websites, not via e-mail; for e-mail protection, see above).

But, 'cause all scripts (and cookies) are then blocked, you will also not be able to see a lot of (in most cases harmless) web-content. So, it's very good practice to change the security settings depending on the kind of websites you want to visit. When surfing trusted or well-known sites you can set the security levels to "standard" or "normal"; in most cases these are also the default settings of your browser. (Do not -never- set your security settings below the level "normal", unless you have a special good reason to do this, it is not necessary for any normal surfing.).

In all other cases, to surf freely around the net, visiting all kind of websites, including weird or obscure sites, porn-sites, so-called hackers sites and more, remember to set your security settings back to top-high.

Instead of switching between high and normal security levels, you can also keep your settings at top-high at all times, and add some selected safe sites to the "trusted zone" in your browser's security options. Although this works well, many people find it a bit complicated or they don't want to do it every time, or they forget it. Maybe you can try it for yourself by looking into your browser's security options and then decide for yourself.

You can also install a program to protect you while surfing. Although no program can guarantee a hundred percent security, there are many good and free programs on the web (see the computing software section).

Final words on this... When your system got infected

In case your system seems to be infected or behaves strangely or even crashes randomly... when things happen such as unwanted changes to your internet home- or search pages, unwanted extra buttons, bars and more... or when some obscure programs or services you never heard of keep starting up, always running in the background and slowing down the whole system...

Then have a look at the software pages to find the right tools (virus-scanners, anti-spyware tools and more) to get rid of those unwanted intruders. Sometimes it maybe a bit tricky (and relatively complicated) to fully remove a certain piece of malware, but in most cases you'll find a good and free (!) program that will fix the problem.
And if that not helps, well then have a look at the troubleshooting pages on this site. In case nothing else helps, at least you can try to restore your whole system by yourself. You don't need to be a computer freak to do this, just read the easy step-by-step guides.
Good luck and have fun on the web...



Related topics : Basic security and privacy - E-mail security and privacy - The "potentially dangerous file" list


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All texts are free for personal non-commercial use. Copyright by the NightOwl.