'Internet safety' may be an oxymoron

Reports on clickjacking, which enables a PC to get infected when a user clicks on a disguised Web link, point out that when it comes to Web browsing, there is no such thing as "security."

To the short list of life's certainties--death and taxes--we can now add "Web threats."

Early indications are that there will be no quick fix for clickjacking, which enables a PC to be infected with malicious software simply by clicking a disguised link on a Web page. All browsers are equally vulnerable, and there appears to be no sure solution, at least in the short term. Even disabling JavaScript and other advanced Web features won't prevent an infection.

Does this mean you should cancel your broadband account and dig out the ham radio? I don't recommend it. In fact, reports such as these show the folly of believing that our Web browsing is ever completely safe. No hardware or software will ever be 100 percent secure.

Yes, keep your antivirus definitions up-to-date. Yes, use a firewall. Download and install Giorgio Maone's NoScript extension for Firefox (donation requested) to gain site-by-site control over the scripts that run in the browser.

But even these precautions are no substitute for common sense. Be careful about the sites you visit and the links you click. View your e-mail as plain text; Microsoft's support site provides instructions for doing so in Outlook 2003 and 2007. In Mozilla Thunderbird, simply click View, Message Body As, Plain Text.

Last, but definitely not least, every PC user must acknowledge that the day will dawn when their system crashes for good--whether due to a malware attack or (more likely) a hardware or software failure. Keep your data backed up. In addition to creating an image backup of your hard drive once or twice a year, using a program such as Acronis' $50 True Image Home (15-day free trial), use an online backup service to keep your important data files fresh.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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