Aardvark Daily
How dangerous is the Web - really?
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If you believe all you read you probably figure that the Internet's World Wide Web is a very dangerous place to visit.

In the past few weeks we've seen several potentially dangerous security flaws exposed in Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser and now we hear that Sun have just shipped another patch to fix a potential hole in its Java product.

What does this mean to the average Net surfer? Is it safer to abstain and is their any such thing as "safe surfing?".

Fortunately for you and I, the risks associated with Web surfing are really very small, in fact your own life is more at risk during your daily commute to work than your files or computer are while you tour the Web.

Let's face it - Net security breaches, real or potential are good value for news publishers. We get the chance to write stories (like this one) that everyone feels they should read - just to be safe. The reality is that most of these security problems represent a very small risk, especially for those users who restrict their activities to a few well-known or mainstream sites.

Studies indicate that the largest Internet-related risks to your system come from:

  • macro viruses attached to word processing or spreadsheet documents emailed to you by friends or business associates.
  • trojans or viruses in files (predominantly games) downloaded from Web or FTP sites.
  • Time-wasting email spam sent to your email address after you make a posting to a newsgroup.

If you're really worried about minimizing the risks however you can follow these simple steps:

  • If you use MSIE, disable all aspects of ActiveX and set the security level to 'high' - use the menu options View/Options/Security to do this.
  • If you use Netscape, disable Javascript from the Options/Network-Preferences/Languages dialog.
  • Stick to the mainstream sites or sites with their own domain name rather than "personal pages".
  • Scan any executable files you download and restrict such downloads to those from well-known sites.

If you're ultra-paranoid you might also want to turn off Java before you visit a new site and only re-enable it if you're satisfied that the site has a benign intent. There are plenty of demonstrations that show how Java can be used to slow your system down, steal your email address or cause your browser to crash but this writer has never found a single instance of this occurring outside of the "showcase" environment.

Of course there's always the possibility that you'll stumble across a malicious web-site that will upset your computer - but you may get killed crossing the road tomorrow. It's up to the individual to weigh up the risk/reward ratio associated with Net use and at this stage the risk is very low, the rewards are very high.

And don't forget to backup everything you can't afford to lose!

Happy surfing...

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