Internet Security Tips for Seniors

image According to the U.S. Census Bureau 40% of of people 65 and older have a computer at home. Of this total, approximately  25% of these individuals are connected to the Internet.

If anything, I’m sure these numbers are now even higher, since these numbers were taken from the census of 2005. In Canada, where I live, recent statistics indicate older adults are the fastest growing group of computer buyers and internet users.

Many of the older people that I have met feel, to some extent, that they have been left behind by technology and the computer age, or as I like to term it “the age of the interconnectedness of all things electronic”.

Part of this disconnection, in my view, is caused by the mistaken notion that the “younger” generation is tech savvy in the extreme. While it may be true, that in developed countries, those in their teens to 40’s are comfortable texting via cell phones, using social apps like FaceBook, Twitter and so on, its sheer media generated hype to extrapolate this level of skill into “a tech savvy” generation.

My personal experience with older adults has shown me that the perception, sometimes held by older adults themselves,  that the older generation has a  limited interest ,or limited skills in using computers, does a disservice to this varied group.

Many older adults are now realizing they don’t have to understand computer technology to send e-mail to friends and family, shop online, play games, make greeting cards, read book and film reviews, look into family genealogy or find valuable health information on the Internet.

So, if you fall into this newly liberated group and have recently acquired a computer, or you just need a refresher course on the fundamental precautions you need to take to secure your computer against the ever increasing exposure we all face to Trojans, Spyware, Viruses, Phishing Scams, and Identity Theft, while connected to the Internet, this article is for you.

Fundamental security precautions:

Patch your operating system. Download and install all available patches and service packs by connecting to Windows Update. It is now beyond dispute that 50% of unpatched and unprotected systems will be infected with malicious code within 12 minutes of being connected to the Internet.

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Install a firewall. Windows XP comes with a basic firewall, and if you are running Windows Vista, it comes with a more robust firewall (Windows Firewall) than XP, as well as anti-spyware utilities (Windows Defender). However, the consensus is; third party applications are usually more effective. Keep in mind that the XP firewall offers only minimal protection.

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Choosing a firewall. There are a number of free firewalls that are worth considering. The following are two that do the job particularly well.

Comodo Firewall Pro:

The definitive free firewall, Comodo Firewall protects your system by defeating hackers and restricting unauthorized programs from accessing the Internet. I have been using this application for 14 months and I continue to feel very secure. It resists being forcibly terminated and it works as well, or better, than any firewall I’ve paid for. This is one I highly recommend. Amazing that it’s free!

PC Tools Firewall:

I’ve been running with PC Tools Firewall for a few months, first on Win 7 Beta, and now on Windows 7 RC, and in this short time period I have been impressed with its performance. It installed easily, set up quickly, and has not caused any conflicts with my machine despite my sometimes esoteric running requirements.

The default settings are well thought out, and provide excellent protection for less experience users – and despite the hype put out by the IT industry, most computer user can be classified as having limited system experience.

Install anti-virus software: There is no doubt that an unprotected computer will become infected by viruses and malware within minutes of first being connected to the Internet. There are many free versions of anti-virus software available and the programs that have a well justified reputation are listed below.

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Avira AntiVir Personal:

This anti-virus program offers comprehensive protection with an easy to use interface. In the time that I have been testing Avira I have been impressed with its performance, and I have come to rely on it as my primary anti-virus program on an XP Pro system. I highly recommend this one.

PC Tools Free Antivirus:

Having tested virtually all of the major antivirus applications, and updates, over the last several years, I’m comfortable recommending the free version of this application as a front line antivirus defender. In the time I have been testing PC Tools Free AntiVirus on my Windows 7 systems, I have been more than satisfied with its performance.

This free antivirus program offers it’s comprehensive protection within an easy to use interface, and it should meet all of your requirements.

Install Anti-spyware and Adware Software: It’s not only a virus that can put your computer down for the count, but a multitude of nasties freely floating on the Internet. Listed below are a number of free programs that offer very good protection against malware.

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Spyware Terminator:

Having tested virtually all of the major anti-spyware applications over the past year or more, I’ve settled, for now, on Spyware Terminator primarily due to its strong real-time protection against spyware, adware, Trojans, key-loggers, home page hijackers and other malware threats.

Spyware Terminator excels in strong active protection against know and unknown threats. If anything, I find it perhaps a little overly aggressive. On the other hand, better this than the alternative.

Microsoft Security Essentials:

I’ve been running Security Essentials as a tester for months on my Win 7 machine, backed up by my usual, on demand, security applications and I’ll state, without any hesitation, I’m impressed. I highly recommend this free application.

Ad-Aware:

Many software reviewers consider Ad-Aware Free as the best free adware remover available. It does a relatively good job of protecting against known data-mining, Trojans, dialers, malware, browser hijackers and tracking components.

The only downside with the free version is real-time protection is not included.

ThreatFire:

ThreatFire blocks mal-ware, including zero-day threats, by analyzing program behavior and it does a stellar job. Again, this is one of the security applications that forms part of my front line defenses. I have found it to have high success rate at blocking mal-ware based on analysis of behavior. I highly recommend this one!

Internet Browser Protection:

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Web of Trust (WOT):

WOT is a free Internet Browser add-on (my personal favorite), that has established an impressive 4.5/5.0 star user rating on CNET. WOT tests web sites you are visiting for spyware, spam, viruses, browser exploits, unreliable online shops, phishing, and online scams, helping you avoid unsafe web sites.

SpywareBlaster:

SpywareBlaster prevents ActiveX-based spyware, adware, dialers, and browser hijackers from installing on your system by disabling the CLSIDs (a system used by software applications to identify a file or other item), of spyware ActiveX controls.

A secondary but equally important function offered by SpywareBlaster, is its ability to block spyware/tracking cookies and restrict the actions of spyware/adware/tracking sites in Internet Explorer, Mozilla FireFox, Netscape, Seamonkey, Flock and other browsers.

If you have not yet taking the precautions as outlined above, you are extremely vulnerable and it is critical that you take the following precautions:

Stop surfing the Web and patch your operating system. Only then download your choice of the protective software as noted above, or software that you are familiar with that will do an appropriate job of protecting your computer.

Do not visit any other websites until you have done this!

Additional security precautions:

Establish a password for the administrator account. Only you should have access to the administrator settings on your PC. Unfortunately, XP installs with open access to the administrator’s account. Be sure to change this.

Create a new password protected user account. Using this account for your general day-to-day activities adds another layer of protection to your computer. A user account does not have the same all-access permissions as your administrator account, and in many cases this extra layer of protection will restrict malware from gaining a foothold on your PC.

My apologies for using the word”Senior” in the title of this article – it is not a word I’m personally comfortable with.

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