When it comes to reaching out from your home and connecting with the world from your computer, it’s important to remember that the door swings both ways. Malware, viruses, Trojan horses, worms, and any number of other malicious-yet-whimsically-named programs can get into your computer through your line, and if you’re not up to date on how things work, you might find yourself in a lot of trouble. Everyday, 1.5 million people become victims of cyber-crime. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of computer users have any understanding of computer security. So, in the interest of protection through education, here are ten internet security myths that you might have mistaken for fact.
1. Only Important People and Companies are Likely to Become Targets
While it’s true that your personal computer is probably beneath the notice of active hacking groups like the ones that cracked the personal information of Wired magazine writer/editor Matt Honan, cyber-criminals don’t need to actually go after you, to go after you. You see, programs now exist that automatically search the web for vulnerable sites and computers. In fact, an unprotected computer accessing the internet will probably become infected with malicious software in under half an hour. So if your computer is a weak link, the viruses are going to be the first ones to know about it. To make matters worse, people don’t even really need to be all that skilled to become hackers in the first place. Online hacking programs can be found with one browser search, and they come with easy to follow directions on how to use them.
2. You’ll Know it When Your Computer Becomes Infected
While this may have been true at one time, the times they are a changing. You see, most modern malware operates much more stealthily than did its predecessors. It won’t display unwanted pop-ups, slow your computer, or crash your system. It will simply get into your personal information and do what it likes with it.
3. Your Browser Will Protect You
People can debate the merits of Firefox vs. Google Chrome until they are blue in the face. The truth is that there hasn’t been created a browser that can protect you from all virus incursion.
4. You Need to Download Something to Become Infected
Once again, that time is long past. Subversive programs that secretly infect your computer upon visiting the site in question are very common these days.
5. You Need to Open Infected Files to Become Infected
Just like the last one, some viruses can get into your system whether you open that suspicious email attachment or not. Sometimes it’s enough to simply receive an infected message.
6. As Long as You Stay Away From Adult Content Sites, You’ll be Fine
The fact is that no “type” of site is inherently more or less dangerous than others. Sure, a large number of malicious programs can be found on adult sites, but they can be found everywhere else too. In fact, many adult sites are meticulously maintained and better protected against viral incursion than, say, someone’s random Twilight fan fiction page. Hackers seek out these unprofessional, unprotected sites and use them to launch viral programs.
[Read also: Sites Where You Are Most Likely to Get Hacked]
7. You Just Need to Make Sure That you Only Open Emails From People you Know
While it’s certainly a good idea to junk the email from the Nigerian Prince who has a once-in-a-lifetime proposition for you, you should also know that not everything tagged as having come from your best buddy or your sister is legitimate. Certain viruses will access the “contacts” folder from computers that they have infected, and then replicate themselves and send copies out to every contact on the list. So if you open something that you thought was from your mom, not only might you get a virus, but you might also have it use your good name to pass it on to your friends and relatives.
8. Your Antivirus Will Protect You
OK, this one’s only really a half-myth. True, having reputable up to date antivirus software is still one of the best ways to protect yourself from cyber-attacks, it isn’t infallible. The problem with viruses and other malicious programs is that they are constantly being updated and improved upon. There are even viruses that can randomly change their own source code, making themselves very difficult to identify. Additionally, some attacks are done the old fashioned way—through guessing passwords—and can’t be deterred by antivirus software.
[Read also: How Effective Are Antivirus Programs?]
9. No One Will Guess Your Password
You might be surprised just how simple most people’s passwords are. The reason is obvious: People want to be able to remember their passwords, and they don’t want to have to memorize dozens of different ones. So, they choose something simple, and they reuse it everywhere they can. Hacker’s know this, and have been known to coopt entire lives with one cracked password. At the same time, most sites offer password hints for when users forget their passwords and need to log in. These are often even easier to guess. Maintaining virtual security means protecting yourself on every front, and that means using better passwords and more of them.
[Recommended read: Too many Passwords – How to remember them all?]
10. You Don’t Have to Worry, You Have a Mac
Ugh… Look, the only reason Mac users have had an easier time in the past is because they were an insignificant minority; most people used PCs, and so most hacking attempts were directed at PCs. That’s all changing, and so now Mac specific viruses are becoming more prevalent. After all, viruses and their ilk are really just programs. To say that your Mac can’t get viruses is like saying that it can’t run programs. Etch-a-Sketches might be invulnerable to viruses, but your Mac is certainly not. So no matter how much you may like the commercials about the hip young guy and the out of touch old dude, the fact is, they’re in the same boat when it comes to cyber-assaults.
[Recommended read: Online Security Tips You Can’t Afford to Ignore]