Tips On How to Safely Browse the Internet

By Alexandra Diggs, Stony Brook University

When it comes to browsing the Internet, it's always wise to take the necessary precautions to prevent yourself from falling victim to things like identity theft or malware. Malware is a term used to describe a broad category of damaging software that includes viruses, worms, trojan horses, rootkits, spyware, and adware (PCWorld). In most cases, you may not even realize it's being downloaded onto your computer, but it may manifest as a bombardment of popup ads or a hijacking of your homepage. Since some forms of malware may leave irreversible damage to important files or hardware, steps should be taken to prevent malware from infecting your computer and to ensure the safety of your hardware. This article will provide you with some tips on how to do this.

Network Security

Before even gaining access to the Internet, you should make sure that all of your connections are secure. An unsecure network will give hackers easier access to your device and information. This can be done by investing in a virtual private network (VPN) or setting up a firewall. A VPN program will allow you to replace your initial IP address with one that the VPN service provides. VPNs use advanced encryption protocols and secure tunneling techniques to encapsulate all online data transfers ( This means that you remain anonymous and no one knows exactly where you are accessing the web from. A firewall, on the other hand, works like a filter in that you can program what your computer sends out and what you want it to receive by setting specific criteria. Windows and OS X both come with firewalls although the firewall on a Mac is off by default. It is wise to install additional firewall software unless you are knowledgable in setting up the built in one. Below you will find some common features found within firewall software.

Feature Description
Inbound and Outbound Filtering The firewall filters incoming and outgoing information based on set rules.
Stealth Mode The firewall makes your computer undetectable to hackers trying to send information to it to see when you're online.
Privacy Protection The firewall blocks spyware, adware, as well as hijackers from reaching your computer.
Application Integrity The firewall monitors applications and notifies the user of any modifications made to them. It will block the application from transmitting data to the Internet until things are resolved.


AVG logo

One important category of software that will protect your hardware, as well as all of the important files you have stored on your computer is anti-malware. There are a variety of anti-malware programs available for various operating systems that you can install on your computer that will protect your system from being infected. They are able to do this by detecting the malware that has infiltrated your system, removing it, and cleaning up any residual damage that the malware may have caused. In addition, some programs, such as Malwarebytes, may include features such as malicious website blocking and real-time protection. Below is a list of free Windows anti-malware programs with a link to their homepages.

Programs Link to Homepage
Avast Link
AVG Link
Avira Link
Kaspersky Link
Malwarebytes Link


Paper with username and password on fishing hook

In addition to malware, we also have to be wary of the links we open as some have the ability to redirect us to websites that can steal our information. These are referred to as phishing links. Cybercriminals can create these links by attaching malicious software to them and convincing you by way of email or website to click on them so the software is automatically downloaded to your computer. Believe it or not, there’s also 'vishing' (voice phishing), 'smishing' (SMS Phishing) and several other phishing techniques cybercriminals are constantly coming up with ( There are certain characteristics of a phishing email that you can watch out for in order to distinguish between a legitimate email and one that is trying to obtain your personal information. One obvious giveaway is bad spelling and grammar as large corporations usually have a department team that will proofread any emails going out to the masses. Another common characteristic of a phishing email is links that lead to direct file downloads (links ending in .exe, for example) or links that have mismatching addresses. If you hover over a link in an email and see that the popup address leads to a different website, this can be a strong indication that the sender has malicious intent. Finally, receiving threats that your account will be terminated if no action is taken is another red flag that should be looked out for.


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