Anyone who has spent a reasonable amount of time cruising around the Internet will know how addictive the activity can become. The potential for diversion, for seeking information, interaction, and entertainment, is nearly limitless. The landscape is also ever changing; new sites go up and others fold; ezines run for a few months and then disappear. The volatile nature of the virtual world spurs us on to new and wider searches for stimulation.
Unfortunately, the same fact holds true on the Internet as with any big city in the real world: not every neighborhood is safe to wander into. Not only is there a lot of content that may be objectionable to adults and harmful to children, some Websites can actually threaten casual browsers and their computers with viruses, spyware, and even identity theft.
Internet Explorer’s security and privacy settings are your first line of defense when venturing out into this uncertain terrain. Clicking on the Tools box, followed by Internet Options, will bring you to the Security tab. Here you can configure your Internet zone settings to Medium or High to help steer you clear of dubious sites that might afflict your computer with unwanted downloads and plug-ins. You’ll also have the freedom to make personalized lists of trusted and restricted sites; this will help you to avoid stumbling upon disreputable websites accidentally, like by misspelling a familiar site’s address when you do a search.
If you have Internet Explorer Version 6 or a more recent version, you can also adjust your cookies settings by clicking the Privacy tab, which also lies under the header of Internet Options. Cookies are the means by which Websites identify individual users – for example, to distinguish between groups of visitors all interacting on the same site, when the actions of each one must be responded to separately. Obviously, you don’t want your presence to be tracked by every site you stumble across. Setting the value of the cookies slider to Medium will allow only those that use your personally identifiable information with your consent. Setting the slider higher, however, might interfere with your ability to perform certain functions online like shopping, trading or banking.
If you haven’t already done so, arm your computer with up-to-date antivirus software. Some of the most trusted and readily available names in the market include McAfee, Norton, and Panda. Oftentimes, particular antivirus software will have the endorsement of your Internet Service Provider and be available as a part of that provider’s package. Antivirus technology has become fairly simple to install and use, and the software will guide you step-by-step through the process of getting set up.
Armed with these tools, you’ll need only one more thing to enable you to browse the Web with peace of mind: a little common sense. Just as you would avoid the dimly lit back streets of a strange city at night, steer clear of any Website that’s unfamiliar and that gives you an unsettling feeling in your gut. When in doubt, pass it by. Why take a chance, when there’s a virtual world of friendlier sites waiting for you?