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10 simple steps to be safe in the digital era

December 16, 2005 15:04 IST

Cyber crime is here to stay. The PC revolution and the Internet boom in India have introduced new elements to cyber crime: elements that make cyber crime one of the most dangerous issues facing the modern society.

Children and innocent netizens are now being subjected to an unprecedented barrage of innovative cyber attacks: for instance, a rising number of phishing' attacks have emerged as a new, big threat of cyber security.

According to the Anti-Phishing Working Group statistics, approximately 5 per cent users fall prey to phishing scams. Spam, viruses, worms and other malicious code account for global losses of several billion dollars.

So how do you protect yourself from these attacks?

Here are 10 simple steps to cover you against more than 80 per cent of all the causes of information security breaches:

1. Install the latest antivirus software on your computer and never ever turn it off; install a personal firewall and spyware checker (all are available for free on the Net). To find them just do a search on the Net using the keywords: antivirus & free.

2. Never download or open attachments whose source you are not certain about. Even if the source is trusted, see if the content is relevant. If not, don't open attachment. Create  another email ID which you use exclusively for subscription to sites. That will prevent spam from coming to your main ID. Some mail accounts allow you to create topic-specific email IDs that you can delink.

3. Avoid checking mail or using credit card details online in cyber cafes. It is next to impossible to be sure that it is safe. Even reputed café's such as those at international  airports and 5-star hotels have known to be key-logged. As a matter of fact, open an additional debit card with a limit if you do want to transact online. This way, in the worst case scenario your damages are limited.

4. Do not give away your residence phone number or cellphone number. Be especially careful when you are filling in contest forms, coupons, free gift vouchers, etc. More often than not these are gimmicks  to obtain your personal details. Don't believe it when they say the data will not be given to others -- it most certainly will be. Don't print these numbers on your visiting card.

5. Get into the habit of destroying documentation regarding credit cards, such as receipts, bills, invoices or any documents that contain personal details.

6. If you are using broadband or working from home, ensure that your PC is hardened professionally. This can also be done by yourself if you follow the next step.

7. Information is a reality of modern life: just like health or transport or communications. The point is that you need to know something about it, even if it's just some basics. Read about information security breaches by subscribing to some newsletters. In the case of many  breaches, the only defense is knowledge. For instance, no technology could have prevented  the phishing attack (wherein victims got mails seemingly from legitimate banks asking  them to confirm their passwords and IDs).

8. Use two different passwords. One for mail, work and other important access and the other  for routine proposes such as subscribing to sites, etc. But remember to switch between them when you start doing transactions after mere browsing.

9. Create a difficult-to-guess password by taking the first alphabet from each word of a phrase. For instance a password like 1at*eomc is constructed using a phrase "I am the  star employee of my company."

10. Educate your children about the dangers of cyber crime. Children with their unbound curiosity and unmonitored access are the single most common victims of cyber crime apart from the enterprises. Ensure that the home PC is kept in a common place so that you can monitor what is going on.

The author is the CEO of Mahindra Special Services Group. He has over 17 years of experience in security of information.

Captain Raghu Raman