So much of our modern lives seems to be related to computers and the Internet. We do so many things online shop, buy movie tickets, use email, read newspapers, connect with friends and family on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and listen to and download our favorite tunes.
But while the Internet makes our lives so much easier, there are risks associated with it.
Viruses could wipe out all your data. Hackers could break into your system and use it to attack other computers. Cybercrooks could steal your credit card information and rack up thousands of dollars in charges before you even know what's happening.
Just consider how much of your personal information is stored on your computer and in cyberspace information you don't want in the hands of the bad guys.
So here are some tips to help keep you and your information as safe as possible when you go online. Although none of these methods is foolproof, they will help protect you against the potential dangers associated with the Internet.
It's tempting because you're always being asked to create another user name and password at one site or another.
"When criminals are able to get your password from one site that they've hacked into, they then take it and try to use it on other common services to see if they can get more access to your personal information," said Chester Wisniewski, a security expert at security firm Sophos Ltd. "So they'll go to Facebook and use the same password you used on [the site they hacked into] and they'll go to your Gmail account."
But how can you remember all the different usernames and passwords for all the websites you visit?
Wisniewski said there are free password-management tools such as LastPass that automatically save usernames and passwords. All your passwords go in one database, which is locked with a single master password the only one you'll have to remember. When you go to a previously visited website, the password manager automatically logs you in.
"We see all these survey scams on the Internet all the time where you're asked to fill in all this personal and private information and enter to win an iPad," Wisniewski said.
The problem is most of them are frauds and scams. "No one is getting an iPad," Wisniewski said.
Instead of entering a sweepstakes, what you're really doing is handing your information over to criminals who might sell it off to someone else or use it to commit identity theft .
Don't give out information such as your birth date on social media or other sites that ask for it.
"Unfortunately, the way we work in the real world, these things may be used to identify you," Wisniewski said.
Instead of giving away your identity, make another one up .
Anti-virus software comes pre-installed on most computers. But after the initial free trial period is over, either shell out for a subscription or install free anti-virus software. You'll need it.
"It's not a bulletproof answer because things still get by anti-virus software," Wisniewski said. "But keeping it up to date improves your safety dramatically. And there are great free solutions out there Microsoft has one if you don't have a lot of money."
If you do, you'll lessen the chances of experiencing a security breach.
Trojan horses , viruses and other forms of malware evolve every day. When a bug or hole that could harm your computer or let in the bad guys is found in a piece of software, the software company will usually release an update. It's very important that you run these updates to minimize the opportunities for criminals to steal or misuse your information.
"For example, if you get that little balloon in the tray in Windows, that says 'Hey, there's an Adobe update available,' click 'yes,'" Wisniewski said.
If you're using an outdated browser, you're also running the risk of being scammed or having your identity stolen. Up-to-date browsers have much better protection against cyberattacks than older versions.
A firewall is a system designed to prevent unauthorized access to your computer. Most current operating systems, such as updated versions of Windows XP, Vista and 7, as well as Mac OS X 10.4 and later, have one built in. Otherwise, you can get a inexpensive software firewall from your local computer store, software vendors or your Internet service provider.
"Turning the firewall on makes a big difference," Wisniewski said, "because if something were to escape your anti-virus [software] and try to communicate with the Internet to send all your banking information, your firewall will stop that if it's enabled and configured properly."