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The Internet has opened myriad opportunities for your company. But did you know the Internet can also open a world of trouble? That's because while you're seeking out information on the web, others can be getting into your computer - spreading viruses, accessing confidential information, acquiring your e-mail address for spamming - even taking control of your computer and its files.

The bad news is that anytime you're on the Internet, your computer can be vulnerable. The good news is that by being aware of these threats, you can stop them.

Computer Viruses: These malicious, destructive "programs" embed themselves in your system and can wreak havoc on your computer - erasing or damaging all of your files. Viruses can infect your computer when you access an infected web page or open an attachment to an e-mail. The most insidious of them self-propagate by forwarding themselves to friends, colleagues and business contacts in your address book. To stop viruses:

  1. Trash all unsolicited e-mails, and don't open attachments unless you're sure they're not infected. Remember, a virus can infiltrate browser address books - so e-mail that looks like it's from a friend could contain a virus. If in doubt, call the sender and ask if they sent you an e-mail.
  2. Make sure you have virus protection software with an "auto detect" mode. And be sure to update your software regularly because an average of 7 new viruses appear every day.
  3. If you think you have a virus, don't try to get it out yourself - you could make it worse. Call your IT department, computer consultant or Korrect Technology.
Spyware: With high-speed cable connections, your computer is always connected to the Internet, and vulnerable. Hackers can locate your computer and download a program that gives them access to your computer at any time. Not only can they watch every keystroke you make, they can gather any information that resides on your computer, including passwords and account numbers. They can also create phone dial-up connections and stick you with a massive long distance bill.

The best protection against hackers and spyware is a firewall, a software program or hardware device that denies unauthorized access to computers or networks.

Cookies And Spam: No, they're not two great tastes that go together, they're actually byproducts of Internet advertising that can be annoying and even harmful. Cookies are text files that are left on your hard drive when you visit a web site. They were developed to help you navigate the web and be recognized by sites without having to type in your user name and password every time you visit. They're also used to monitor your movement on the Internet so advertisers can target their messages. Unscrupulous people can use cookies to obtain your e-mail address and cross-reference it with databases that may include your name, postal address and personal information.

If you're concerned about security, most browsers let you refuse cookies (though web browsing may become more troublesome and time consuming).

Spam is the Internet version of junk mail, unsolicited e-mail sent out to millions of web addresses at once. It clogs your mailbox, wastes your time - and can cause your computer to crash and even slow down the entire Internet. To prevent or diminish spam, you should:

  1. Never open spam and never buy from a spammer - it will only lead to more spam.
  2. Some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can screen spam, placing it in a separate mailbox. ISPs are also bringing legal action against spammers, so report persistent offenders to your ISP.
  3. Never give out your e-mail address unless you know how it will be used - it's an invitation to be spammed.
  4. If you can, keep your e-mail address off the Internet. Spammers have sophisticated programs that scan the Internet in order to "harvest" live web addresses.

By following these tips, you can take advantage of the tremendous opportunities the Internet offers and avoid the perils lurking on it.

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