20/20 – Day 19: 20 online security necessities

It’s the penultimate day of 20/20 and I’m playing it safe.  Well, helping you stay safe anyway.

In many ways we take the Internet for granted.  It’s easy to forget the need to be secure and safe online.  And it needs more than some anti-virus software.

What do you do to stay safe online?  If you rely on anything that I miss in the list below, let us know in the comments and share the wealth!

Here are my 20 top tools and tips to remain secure while you browse.

  1. Firefox – My web browser of choice.  Do me a favour, if the only browser you’ve used is Internet Explorer, please at least try Firefox.  If you’ve tried Firefox and didn’t like it (I promise not to judge you. 😉  ) then try some of the other browsers out there.  Check Google Chrome or Opera perhaps.  Internet Explorer tends to be targeted more due to the bigger base of users.  I hope you do like Firefox, because several of the security choices below are Firefox plugins that are crucial for the safest browsing experience.
  2. USB stick – Don’t want to leave a personal trail on a public computer?  Want to make sure your setup is as safe as your home one?  Simply install software on a USB memory stick.  A huge range of applications mean you can have a choice of software similar to your home computer, resting in your pocket. Check out Portable Apps for a great suite of programs and Gizmo’s Best Free Portable Applications for most top software.  Armed with portable Firefox and the safety plugins I’m about to mention, and you can secure yourself pretty well in the process.
  3. Encrypted USB – Go even further to securing yourself by protecting your USB stick.  Try USB Safeguard or TrueCrypt for an even safer ride.
  4. Anti-virus – Protects you from viruses. I use Avira and I haven’t been let down by it yet. Fingers crossed it stays that way!
  5. Firewall – Keeps intruders out.  I use COMODO Firewall.
  6. Sandbox – A sandbox lets you run files and programs in an isolated area of the hard drive so any dodgy stuff can’t harm the computer.  If you browse the Web in the sandbox and you get a virus, you can clear the sandbox and come away without a problem.  I use Sandboxie for this.
  7. RequestPolicy – Firefox plugin that stops cross-site requests.  You’d be amazed at how often your information travels between different websites.  When you visit a site, it often connects to many other sites to gather information on screen.  You’ll be amazed at just how many sites some pages want to get information from.  RequestPolicy puts you in control of which sites you allow contact with.
  8. NoScript – This Firefox plugin blocks malicious scripts and stops potentially dangerous content from running unless you allow it.  Again, you’ll be amazed at just how much this tool stops from automatically loading without your knowledge!
  9. Delete Cookies & identifying information – I tend to allow cookies, but have them delete each time I close the browser.  It’s convenient and more private than keeping those cookies lurking about forever.  Configure how you use cookies in Firefox by selecting the Tools menu, clicking ‘Options…’ and checking the ‘Privacy’ tab.
  10. Better privacy with BetterPrivacy – Think you’ve deleted all your cookies? Think again. There are stealth cookies now that live in Flash.  You can’t get rid of these without BetterPrivacy.  I suggest you get it now and banish those tough-to-remove cookies once and for all.
  11. KeyScrambler – Keyloggers can be installed without your knowledge, which track every key you press on the keyboard.  In the (hopefully) unlikely event your keystrokes are being monitored, KeyScrambler encrypts each press into nonsense.
  12. AdMuncher – A lot of people use Adblock Plus for Firefox, but I prefer the standalone software AdMuncher to get rid of adverts.  Not strictly a security tool, but it stops the adverts and stops many connections to ad services.  Can’t be a bad thing, can it?
  13. Different passwords for all services – Don’t use the same password for everything you use.  Yes, you won’t forget.  Yet once one service is compromised, it’s every service compromised.  It’s bad enough being inconvenienced once, so don’t get inconvenienced many times all at once.
  14. Stronger passwords – Lifehacker gives some tips on great passwords.
  15. Use a master password in FirefoxExplained here by dkszone.
  16. LastPass – A password manager.  Helps when you’ve got a lot of passwords on the go and don’t want to remember them all (see Point 13!).  If you’re not keen on this one, try KeePass, another popular manager.
  17. Awareness of what’s private & what’s not – It’s easy to forget which Facebook pages are open for everyone to read and which are private.  Don’t make a mistake and write something stupid (or worse) for the world to see.  Always think about who is able to access the text and content you’re uploading.
  18. Set sensible privacy settings – See above. Facebook has changed its settings a few times recently.  Even if you think you set your profile to completely invisible to anyone except friends, check again now.  Regular checking of privacy settings is required for any website that publishes personal information of yours.
  19. Private Browsing – Some browsers, including the latest Firefox, have a private browsing function so you can surf the Web without the software recording any details and saving any information.  You may need this for some personal surfing, not just looking for weird porn and dodgy downloads.
  20. Use your own caution – Nothing is failsafe.  Even with all the protection above, you may still fall foul of viruses, hacking, and so on.  Exercise caution in everything you do online.  Don’t be casual as you browse and be careful what you choose to download.  If you choose to grab all sorts of pirated software off a messed up torrent and it doesn’t get found by the anti-virus software, all your safe browsing is in vain.
Title image: original by tiffa130 (cc)  /  Bottom image: kreg.steppe (cc)