Internet Help and Tips

If you browse the Internet, there are many things to worry about, such as viruses, spyware, and crooks trying to trick you out of personal or financial information. There are some things you can do to minimize your exposure to these dangers and make your online experience more enjoyable.

A Better Browser

Mozilla's Firefox browser does not support the Microsoft ActiveX technology that many spyware programs use to get inside your computer. Just by using Firefox, you can significantly reduce your chances of picking up spyware.

Firefox is stable, fast, easier-to-use and more secure than Microsoft Internet Explorer. It's easy to install and can import your Internet Explorer settings, so there's no reason not to give it a try.

If you're not a fan of the user interface changes made starting with Internet Explorer 7, you may prefer Firefox and its more "traditional" menus and toolbars. Firefox's built-in spell checker for web forms and text boxes is the slickest new feature to hit web browsers since the back button. Firefox can also be enhanced with add-ons, such as Adblock Plus and NoScript, to secure your browser and enhance your browsing experience.

Exploiting "bugs" (errors in the underlying programming) is another way that spyware and viruses spread. Bugs are far less common in Firefox than in Internet Explorer, and what bugs are found are fixed much faster due to the open-source development model it follows.

Spyware and Virus Prevention

You don't need to spend a fortune to keep your computer safe. There are several free (for home use, typically) antivirus and spyware applications available for download online. See our list of Essential Windows Freeware for free antivirus and anti-malware programs for Windows.

Be warned, though, that there are also some less-than-honest programs out there too; such as anti-spyware utilities that actually put spyware on instead of taking it off.

Our Helpful Links page contains a list of some reputable and popular antivirus and spyware applications.

The Spyware Warrior web site lists all the known "rogue" or "bad" spyware applications to avoid.

Three Easy Tips for Better Search Results

Google, Yahoo, Bing and most other search engines have special ways to input search terms to help define exactly what you're looking for. The following three tips will help you make the most of each and every search you submit:

  1. Use quotation marks to define exact phrases:
    "panama canal"
  2. Use plus signs to absolutely require a term in results:
    "panama canal" cruise +carnival
  3. Use minus signs to exclude a term in results:
    "panama canal" cruise -carnival

#1 will produce better results than just inputting the two words without the quotes, #2 will require the word "carnival" in any results, and #3 will exclude that term in all results.

Take Your Browser With You

Got a USB flash drive? You can take a browser, complete with your bookmarks and other settings with you, wherever you go.

Beware of Hoaxes and Scams

The old saying ''if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is'' is more true on the internet than anywhere else. Be careful reading email from people you don't know; and never, ever respond to an email requesting personal information, credit card numbers or passwords. If a legitimate company needs this information, they will likely contact you by regular mail or telephone, and if you're not sure, you can always call them up yourself (never use the contact information in the suspect email, check your bill or phone book for a telephone number).

Use Strong, Unique Passwords

News Flash! Your birthday, anniversary or dog's name are not good passwords. Do not use the same password more than once, and do not leave them taped to your monitor or other easily-accessible place.

Good passwords are ones made up of random letters (lower and uppercase), numbers and symbols, at least 8-10 characters long, such as: 93@q^Fg1Hv (don't use this one!).

If you need some help coming up with a totally random password, try GRC's Ultra High Security Password Generator, and simply copy and paste however many characters you need from the passwords it generates.