By M.J. Subiria Arauz
Communication, research and information are more accessible in the 21st century, thanks to the internet, according to the president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Serving Metro Atlanta, Athens and Northeast Georgia, Inc.
Though such access can make a lifestyle more efficient to some, it can also open doors to hackers and viruses, said Fred Elsberry, Jr.
"Keeping your information safe is easy," he said.
Hacking can be thought of as a virtual way of breaking and entering, said Elsberry. Once hackers break in, they are able to tamper with important information, delete essential files and entirely crash a network of computers, he said.
Typically, hackers virtually trespass into large consumer web sites, to steal bank accounts and credit card information, he said.
Elsberry added that these trespassers also break into home networks.
To ward off hackers, computer users should use a fire wall, said the president and CEO.
"With a [fire wall] in place, you can control your security, and filter what information from the internet is safe and what is not," he said.
Computer users should be cautious when providing personal information on the internet, he added. Users can utilize security software to keep their information safe.
Consumers should only give out their information to companies they trust, he added.
He said children and teenagers are capable of hacking computers as well, and parents should teach their children safe computer practices.
"Just because it's virtual doesn't mean the consequences are virtual too," he said.
Elsberry said viruses are similar to hacking, because both exist to harm or destroy the foundation of a computer. The difference is that viruses are much like a common cold, because they are easily transferred from computer, to computer through the internet, he said.
This could happen to computer users without warning, he said. Users can infect their computers solely by a click of a button, or opening an e-mail. If it reaches far enough, it can consume the hosting computer, he said.
"Unfortunately, for its victims, viruses infect your computer often before you even know what you did wrong," said Elsberry.
Tips to protect computers from unwanted viruses, include not opening suspicious e-mails, especially those with eye-catching titles on subject lines, such as "FREE FREE FREE," he said.
Viruses may derive from someone a computer user may know in their e-mail contact list, he said. Users should monitor all subject lines, even if the sender is known, he said.
"...if you are the victim of an [e-mail] virus, immediately warn your contacts because they are the next target," said Elsberry. "After that, change your password often over the next few weeks."
Elsberry said that no legitimate firm that a consumer does business with should ask for personal or financial information via e-mail, because they would likely already have this information on file.
He said the e-mails are created to appear as if they are from entities, such as banks and credit card companies.
Consumers who have no knowledge of a company that they are considering doing business with, can check the company's information on the BBB Business Review, by visiting, www.bbb.org, said Elsberry.
"Please don't be fooled," he said. "It will end up [costing] you money, or you will become a victim of identity theft."