Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Alleviating the E-Fear: Educating Members on Safe Browsing

When I first started this blog, the IT department here at Maine State CU had a bet on when I would get a virus on an open connection. They gave me a week before my box got infected. Guess what? I have yet to get a virus, and probably won't (knock on wood).

It is IT's job to keep viruses out of the credit union's network, so they are inherently apprehensive about letting employees access the open Internet from their computers at work. There are security risks out there, but most of them can be avoided with a few safe browsing practices.


When you access the Internet it is a lot like traveling to a large city. The largest in the word actually. There are beautiful, stunning, and informative places to visit, but there's a fair share of shady neighborhoods as well. You wouldn't visit NYC without knowing where those areas are, why would you blindly navigate the e-roadway without a knowledge of were you can trust and where you can't.

You shouldn't let your members and employees go blindly into this new frontier. It is our job to protect their financial and personal information, regardless of the medium. We should be giving them a roadmap for this e-city so they can navigate it more safely and effectively.

I grew up in this electronic "city" and have wound up in some of those shady neighborhoods. I know full well the dangers there. Those of us who know the roads should be passing on that knowledge to the people looking to come visit. There is a need for an "Internet Guide Book" to lead members and employees to the roads they'd like to be on and avoid the roads that lead to unfriendly territory.

Education is the best alternative to locking your connection down. Why are we limiting our employees' access to great tools to connect, inform, and educate members? The answer is fear, but this fear should end with a good firewall, anti-virus, and education. Firewalls and anti-virus programs should be a back-up just in case...not the front line. There is no replacement for knowledge of the e-landscape.

I just wanted to share a few of the practices I live by in my day-to-day browsing of the Internet. They seem like common sense, but maybe it will help somebody.

-Your first search for a product or web site should be asking somebody you know in real life...not Google. Google is a great resource and you can find many great sites through it, but you are still visiting a random site you've probably never heard of when you click a link from the search page. Find a nerdy friend of yours and ask them where you can find that curry recipe you are looking for. If they don't have an answer, Google away and just be sure your anti-virus is running and up to date.

This is especially important if you are looking to purchase something or are asked to enter personal information. Know who you are giving your info and card number to. Ask around and see if anybody else has had experience with the site or product.

I'm not saying you WILL get a virus because you Googled for something, just that it runs a higher risk than a personal reference to the site.

-Don't accept a friend request from somebody you don't know. There are lots of exploits floating around Myspace these days and the best way to avoid them is to...well...avoid them. If some random (yet attractive) woman you've never met or heard of wants to be your friend, ignore it. Social networking is about connecting your social circle, not making a collection of "friends" so you can brag about how many you have.

Don't Download anything if you don't know where it is coming from. There is nothing wrong with downloading a widget here and a program there, but do it smart. Know the sites you can trust and don't accept a download you didn't intend to start. If you have any doubts, scan the file before you do anything with it. Oh, and never download a free screen saver you found in a banner ad.

-Speaking of Banner ads, use Firefox and install adBlock and NoScript. Not only will it save you from a possible infection, but it also rids your entire browsing experience of nearly all advertising. It will also block most automatic scripts unless you allow it on pages such as home banking or any other trusted site.

Those few things (along with knowledge of the landscape and a good anti-virus) have kept me virus free for years. Stay aware of your e-surroundings and you'll keep yourself out of trouble.

I'd love to start a program here at MSCU that is all about educating members on the web, its uses, and how to stay safe there. Do any of your Credit Unions run this kind of program?

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