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Tech Take-Apart
Safe Shopping on the Web
by kp

With the holidays just around the corner, many of you will be shopping online for those perfect gifts. Though shopping online is quick and easy, it can also be a little dangerous in the tranmission of your personal information across a network. In some cases, your personal information can be used against you when it is taken and misappropriated by nefarious individuals. To keep your identity safe, here are few recommendations.

Look for the sign
Many e-commerce sites partner with security services to help better protect their customers. One feature provided by these companies is an SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate that supplies encryption for data transmission. If you look under the Content tab of your Internet Options in Internet Explorer, you can view some of these certification authorities. Before you buy online, look for a logo representing companies such as VeriSign, HackerSafe or Thawte. These logos can frequently be found at the bottom of the site's home page, or on the checkout pages of their shopping cart.

All URLs are not the same
Website addresses or URLs (Uniform Resource Locators) identify the location of a website's server. The first part of the address is denoted by a protocol called hypertext transfer protocol or HTTP. There is a second type of HTTP called HTTPS (the 'S' stands for secure), which provides an additional layer of encryption . When you are submitting personal information via an online form, it is important to look for the "https" in the address bar to ensure your data is being transmitted securely.

Software updates
If you haven't updated your anti-virus software since it was installed, your computer could be vulnerable to infestation. Updates are usually free and can be obtained through the manufacturer's website or by activating the automatic updates within the anti-virus program's settings. In addition, you should have software updates enabled for your operating system that can provide patches for security holes in your OS. To activate Windows updates, go to the Control Panel -> Security Center -> Automatic Updates. From the menu, you can select how often your computer to should check for updates. In Mac OS X, go to System Preferences -> Software Updates. You can adjust the frequency of the updates and review past installations in the update window.

Browser controls
As mentioned previously, browsers use SSL certificates to identify secure sites. You can configure additional security settings through your browser's options. For Internet Explorer, go to Tools -> Internet Options -> Security. Here, you can set Internet security levels by enabling/disabling plug-ins and extensions. You can use IE's default levels or customize your own. In Safari, go to Safari -> Preferences -> Security. From this menu, you can block pop-ups or disable plug-ins. Safari also has a special feature called "Private Browsing" which prevents information such as cookies from being saved, but this feature may limit your ability to access some websites or shop online.

Security software
There are several software options available to help you surf safely. One example is Anonymizer's Anonymous Surfing that works by creating an encrypted path between your computer and the Internet. This works by adding an extra shield to protect you from online spying and keeps your IP address private. Some other options are Norton Internet Security and McAfee Total Protection. Any software you choose needs to be updated regularly to give your computer maximum security benefits.

For more information on what is lurking on the Internet, check out the Internet Pests article from Understanding Tech.

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Anonymizer Anonymous Surfing
Symantec Norton Internet Security 2007
McAfee Total Protection 2007

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