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As an online business owner, you face treacherous Internet security risks every single time you’re online. Viruses, hackers, and spam await you at every turn. The reality is that these threats are always going to be a component of being online and doing business online. Unfortunately, they seem to be here to stay.
Given that, there are a number of precautions you can take to make yourself, your business and the visitors to your site as safe as possible. Here are 8 tactics proven to enhance your Internet security:
1. Virus Protection. Make sure you have the latest virus updates installed on your computer and let the software thoroughly scan your entire computer daily to ensure that no viruses successfully planted themselves on your hard drive. Set your virus checker to scan your email when it downloads, as well.
I use AVG Free to scan both my computer and my email. They also have a fee-based version that provides complete Internet protection. McAfee and Norton also offer similar products.
For spyware and malware protection, I use CounterSpy. The company that makes this software also has a new product to protect against viruses and spyware called VIPRE.
2. Spam Blocker. I have a spam blocker that I use with Outlook called Cloudmark Desktop that does a great job of helping me train my email program to recognize spam. What I like about this program is that the program users tell Cloudmark what spam arrives in their inboxes, and the programmers update Cloudmark accordingly to recognize those kinds of emails. Other spam blocker programs include IHateSpam and MailWasher.
3. Web hosting Spam Blocker. To block spam before it even hits my Outlook inbox, one of my hosting accounts offers Postini spam blocking on my server. I pay a few dollars extra each month to add this service, but it is well worth it, as it routinely blocks at least 100 emails per day that are spam. I always have the option to log into that account if I am missing an email that may have ended up there accidentally, and I can “whitelist” the sender so that it goes though without a problem the next time. Every night this service sends me a list of emails that are questionable (i.e. the service isn’t sure if it’s spam), and I quickly scan them to approve any that have been misidentified.
4. Email Address Spam. One of the easiest ways your email address gets added to massive lists of spammed email addresses is by including a clear link to your email address on your website. Spambots routinely patrol the Internet looking for readily available email addresses to harvest online. Even if you have the link “cloaked” by saying “click here to email”, which will bring up your email address in the visitor’s email program, the spambot is able to read the HTML sourcecode and harvest the email address.
Instead, remove your email address off of all of your websites. Use a contact form for people to email you that incorporates CAPTCHA technology (where the form filler has to read a graphic representation of a word or set or numbers to prove that s/he isn’t a spambot). I use the free version of Freedback for this task.
5. Discussion List Spam. If your email address must appear on any discussion lists, blog posts, or forum postings, use a free email address like the ones available at Gmail or Yahoo. In this way, you protect your “real” email address from being picked up by spambots.
6. Catch-All Email Address. If your web host company permits, create a catch-all email address that receives all email not specifically marked for a set POP email address or email forward you may have set up. When you sign up for someone’s free giveaway, for example, that will add you to their marketing list you can then enter an email address that reminds you of the site or giveaway where you used it.
For example, if I’m signing up for Jane Smith’s free dog training tips report, I might use email@example.com, which will then end up in my catch-all domain email address. In this way, you don’t have to give away your “real” email address, and you can determine if the list holder sells or rents your email address to another. So, then, if you suddenly begin to get emails to your firstname.lastname@example.org address from a dog food company you’ve never heard of, you’ll know that Jane sold or rented your email address to them.
7. Firewalls and Hackers. Make sure that you are using Windows firewall protection, at a minimum, to protect your computer from being hacked while you’re online. Or, use a free firewall like ZoneAlarm. You can also upgrade for a fee to get enhanced protection.
If you use a wireless router, be sure to set a password to secure it so that anyone passing by your home or office cannot hijack your signal and potentially hack your computer. I was resetting the wireless connection on my laptop just last week and discovered that there were 3 unsecured wireless connections in my neighborhood. I live in a residential section with no businesses, so I know that these were unsecure wireless routers in my neighbors’ homes.
8. Secure Server. If you’re selling something online, either your website hosting account or your shopping cart provider needs to have a security certificate so that any monetary transactions can be made over a secure server. You can check to see if your checkout process is secure by looking for https:// in the address window of your browser when browser when you are on the payment page of your site/shopping cart. Some browsers will also show a gold locked padlock icon when you are on a secure server.
I had to purchase a security certificate from my hosting company for my membership site, as the secure server wasn’t built into the shopping cart that is integrated into the membership site software. If you use Paypal or some version of 1ShoppingCart.com, you are safe, as your customers’ transactions are being carried over a secure server.
When you make sure that your computer and email are protected from spam, viruses, malware and the like, your customers are then safe when you email them or upload something to your site for them to access. Responsible online business owners need to take every precaution available to them to enhance Internet security for all involved.