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Healthy Cyberhabits

E-mail practices: Are you practicing safe e-mail?

Do you freely give out your e-mail address to any site that requests it?

Anytime you send a message to an unknown recipient, you run the risk of your address becoming a target for unsolicited messages. If you must give out your address, play it safe and use a backup account. There are a number of free e-mail services available.

Do you mix your personal and professional e-mail?

By using two different accounts, you can keep your business and personal affairs separate, thereby decreasing the risk that both areas of your life will be exposed to solicitation, spamming, and more.

Do you subscribe to joke and music newsletters?

These lists are widely distributed and are prime targets for those who distribute worms, viruses, and other nasties. It’s like picking up hitchhikers: It’s better not to take the risks involved.

Do you open e-mail attachments without first checking on who sent them?

Because of the risk of receiving a virus, it's best not to open an attachment from someone you don't know. Often, the computers of people you do know are afflicted with a virus and the owner isn't aware of it. Do not open attachments unless the reason for the attachment is explained in the body of the message. To be safe, scan all attached documents that you plan to open with the latest anti-virus software.

Do you use a signature file with your name, address, or phone number?

E-mail signatures are useful, but you should not provide too much information. Generally, a name and title are ample.  Including an address and phone number, particularly on a personal e-mail account, is endangering your privacy.

Do you use filters to sort out unwanted e-mail?

By taking advantage of the features of your email client, you can set up a list of sites that you want to block or keywords that you do not want to receive, such as vulgarities, obscenities, etc.

Shopping Online: Are your credit rating and identity protected?

Do you check your credit card bill every month very carefully?

Just as you would save a receipt in order to return or exchange an item, you should keep a record of all online transactions, including the merchant's Internet address, so that you'll have all the information at your fingertips in case a question arises. Often, merchants will email you a confirmation of your purchase. Be sure to compare that information against the charges on your credit card bill.

Do you use a secure browser that will encrypt or scramble purchase information?

When you order online, be sure the vendor offers you a secure environment from which to order. One way to tell is to look at the address after you choose the option to order. If it begins with https, rather than http, then you are moving into secure territory.

Parents: Do you know where your children are?

Do you know what websites your children visit and with whom they communicate?

Keep the PC in a public area of the house, so that you can monitor what types of sites children view. Talk to your children about the potential dangers and set limits. Emphasize that they should not provide real names, addresses, and phone numbers in chatrooms.

Safe e-mail and on-line shopping questions compiled by Mary Micco, with permission from MIT. Parents’ information compiled by Dennis Giever.