The Complete Dumbass’ Guide to Safe Browsing
Hi! First off – Mom, if you’re reading this – it’s not directed at you. Go tend your Farm on Facebook.
If you’re reading this, chances are either you’re a dumbass, or someone you know… is a dumbass. This guide isn’t to make you feel dumber, but to make you conscious of the fact that you make bad life decisions, and sometimes those happen on the internet.
I’m going to touch on several different scenarios whose concepts are as timeless as crime itself. Believe it, boys and girls – as many predators as there are out there in the analog world, there are a great many more sitting at home on the world-wide web waiting to take any advantage of you that’s available.
Lesson One: Nothing is Free… Unless You Steal It.
Everything has a cost, even if you’re not the one paying it in cash. Here’s the scenario: you’re browsing the web and you see a banner at the top of a web page that says “CONGRATULATIONS!!1 YOU’RE OUR 10,000,000th VISITOR TO OUR WEB SITEZ! CLICK HERE TO CLAIM YOUR PRIZE!”
About ten minutes later, your bank information is now in the hands of a 24-year-old kid in Germany, and you’re waiting on your international wire transfer (sounds fancy, eh?) of 10 million dollars. Guess what? It’s not coming.
I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume you have cognitive reasoning abilities. In any situation where you find yourself about to pull out your wallet and give away the keys to the kingdom (be it your password, credit card, bank, social security number, phone number, or hell, even your e-mail address) regardless of how reasonable the excuse sounds – think about who stands to benefit from your receiving this free gift. If it sounds too good to be true… you’re probably a dumbass. Check out Snopes.com and the Ripoff Report where you can fact check telemarketers, email offers, web sites, and other potential scams.
Also, avoid these websites that offer a free iPod, TV, Playstation 3, gift cards, or whatever else might tickle your fancy in exchange for filling out a brief survey and then completing 2 of each “tier” of offers. Usually the upper-most tier ends up being something ridiculously expensive, difficult, or time-consuming to complete. Meanwhile the website’s made a killing in referral bonuses to all these companies that if, by chance, you make it through all the offers & surveys to get your precious iPad, they can easily afford to send you one. While technically not illegal, it’s definitely not something for nothing.
Lesson Two: Piracy… Not the Safest Activity
When scurvy-ridden scallywags of the high seas raped, pillaged, and plundered wherever they felt like doing so… they got herpes. And scurvy. And rickets. Also, not a lot of women on pirate ships, so… yeah. The digital equivalent is very much the same scenario – if you travel in unsafe territories looking for your digital “booty,” you’re likely to wind up in some trouble. There’s legal trouble, viruses, spyware, identity theft – sites that offer you free downloads in an extensive movie library for a small monthly fee (see: Lesson One) are the biggest traps usually.
There are ways to scour for digital wares that steer clear of both the law and unsavory characters and their problems, but this guide is for you, dumbass, and you’re clearly not capable of such cleverness yet. We’ll get there eventually, but not in this guide.
Lesson Three: Check the Source
A common way to get into trouble on the internet is visiting an untrusted website and letting it do something, like install a video plugin (sometimes called a codec) or other software that is “required” to use their website.
Scenario: You may get a link from a trusted friend with a description like “See Lindsay Lohan KILL Paris Hilton in a Bikini in this HAWT Vid!” and of course, you want to see that, right? So you go to the video site, it explains that you need to install this plugin to watch the video. You agree to this because… come on, it’s going to be awesome! Wait… what? Oh no, porn pop-ups everywhere! You better shut the door and turn the lights down so no one sees all of this, uh… terrible badness.
The bottom line: reputable video sites that actually want you to view their videos (usually because they sell ads on the page) will use popular and industry standard video formats. Adobe Flash and HTML5 are essentially the two mainstream formats available for most video websites. Hulu, Youtube, Megavideo, Dailymotion, Vimeo, VeeHD are a few video sites that are safe to visit for your free (and porn-free) video watching needs.
Scenario Two: You get an e-mail that says your bank account information needs to be updated. It has a link to a page for you to login to your bank account and update your information.
NEVER DO THIS. If your bank needs you to update your information, go to the website by opening up your web browser and manually typing in their address and then logging in. Most banks now use a personally selected image to verify you’re really at the bank’s web site.
Lesson Four: Use Protection
No scenarios here for this one. You need to start making better life decisions. Here’s a few ways you can do that with your computer:
- Back up your files. You don’t need to do anything fancy here. Burn a CD or DVD, put them on a USB hard drive, print them out and put them in a filing cabinet, or on a friend’s computer.
- Use antivirus. I recommend either Microsoft Security Essentials or AVG Free for free options.
- Where possible, use the latest version of the web browser of your choice. Keep it up to date with updates. (I know there’s a thousand of you other geeks out there who will scream at me for not saying “Don’t use Internet Explorer, it’ll get you infected!” but truthfully, it’s a lot harder to get infected with Internet Explorer 7 or higher.)
- Don’t install toolbars. Be careful, even respectable free programs often include them by default unless you pay attention and uncheck the option to install them.
- Don’t open email attachments unless YOU’RE EXPECTING ONE. If you’re not expecting an attachment on an email from even a trusted contact, call them and ask just to be sure. Then be sure to scan it for viruses before opening it. A good program like the two listed above will scan all your e-mail attachments for you anyway.
- Stop being a dumbass.