Safe Surfing

I am NOT a tech security expert.  My (primarily PC-related) recommendations are the result of a lot of reading and consideration, but, like all things online, change comes quickly and frequently.  However, there are a lot of fairly straightforward, even free, things that anyone can do to prevent problems.  And that is the first principle of online security, just like all security measures: prevention is the first line of defense.


  • In fact, prevention is the entire point of this page; there is no help here cleaning up a mess, just avoiding it in the first place.
  • I might lose some people at this very next recommendation, but it is unavoidable: if you have ANY financial dealings and personal info online (including, for instance, purchasing items with a credit card and using email), you need to be at least minimally informed of online security issues. No one else can do it entirely for you.
  • Security online is often inconvenient.  Weak passwords are a good example- easier to create and remember, but easier to break as well.
  • Information is the currency of the web; there are few “free lunches” online.  In other words, unless you take steps to prevent it (and maybe even if you do), personal information and your browsing habits will be gathered, often by “free” services.  And believe me, there are people who have become billionaires- that’s a “b”, not an “m”- by collecting and selling that very information.  I personally think this is a fair deal, IF the info is used only in the aggregate.  But that isn’t necessarily always the case; I consider any attempt to track my personal browsing is a violation of my privacy.


  • Apply automatic Windows Updates (Control Panel- Windows Updates)
  • In general, apply other important updates on a regular basis as well.

AV (antivirus) SOFTWARE

  • HAVE IT INSTALLED.  If you use a service provider like Comcast, Norton/Symantec is free, and Verizon provides McAfee.  If not, obtain a good antivirus program from another source and KEEP IT UP TO DATE (automatic settings usually accomplish this).


  • I use all four of the major browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox (FF), Google Chrome, and Safari).
  • Internet Explorer is probably better than its dismal reputation, but I recommend against it.
  • I find Firefox to be most useful, but sometimes use Chrome because it’s often quicker and more robust (I find that some things that don’t work in FF are OK in Chrome).
  • FF is the only open source platform among the four.  I will always consider open source software when available.  Open source is almost always free, and the best have extremely dedicated and extensive support networks.  And FF is definitely one of the best.
  • I’m impressed with FF’s commitment to protecting individual privacy with add-ons like Collusion and DoNotTrackPlus, again an off-shoot of its open source nature.
  • Another feature of FF, unique among the 4 browsers, is Properties for Bookmarks:
    • Right-click on a bookmark and select Properties; you can then add Tags, Keywords, and Descriptions.
    • Descriptions are most useful to me; I will often add the username for a site and my NICKNAME for its password (cross-referenced on a nearby index card).
    • This might compromise online security slightly, but to be safer I don’t use that feature for important financial sites.


  • Unless you have a very old router, it very likely has wireless capability.  The default level of WiFi (wireless) security may be “open”, which is no security at all.  This means that anyone within range can use your network- and, therefore, is inside your “firewall”, and therefore may have access to all of the info on your computer(s).
  • At the minimum you want to enable the following:
    • the highest possible level security mode (typically WPA/WPA2); and,
    • a requirement that any device enter the network password in order to have access.
    • If you are unable to program your router to achieve these parameters, (typically accessed through your browser), I strongly urge you to find someone who can do it for you.


Malware” is a general term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software. This includes computer viruses, worms, trojan horses, spyware, adware, ransomeware, and other malicious programs.


There are many other possible considerations for online safety, among which are:

  • protecting children online
  • mobile device security
  • foolish use of social media (inappropriate pictures, conversations, tweets, etc.) is neither affiliated with, nor profits financially from, any other site.  Linking to the sites below doesn’t necessarily indicate agreement with everything that they have to say.  You will find some of the resources below to be excellent reading; the first, from CMU, has a world of useful info.  Hopefully they will help you to be a smarter and safer surfer.