A general overview of online security risks and resources to help you stay safe online.

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Threats

Computer Security Risks

The internet works by allowing one computer to send information to another computer across a network of worldwide computers. Rather than going directly to the intended computer, data often passes through several intermediate computers. Each intermediate computer has the potential to see the contents of data being transmitted creating a security risk.

Other security risks can be created from files and programs downloaded to your computer or sent via email. Some programs, called "viruses", are written to intentionally damage your computer and the data stored on it. Make sure security updates for your operating system (Microsoft Windows or MAC OS X for example) are consistently installed on your computer. In addition, ensure your firewall, antivirus and anti-spyware software are up-to-date with the latest definitions.

Does your computer lack antivirus protection? Security Suite provides complete protection for your computer. In addition to its award winning virus protection, Our Security Suite includes firewall, anti-spam, anti-phishing, anti-spyware and parental controls. Best of all, Security Suite is included at no additional cost to Spectrum Internet customers (1).

Learn more about Security Suite.

Malware

Malware is a generic term used to describe viruses, spyware, adware, Trojan horses, rootkits, worms or any other program with malicious intent.

Viruses

A virus is a program or piece of code that is installed and runs on your computer without your knowledge. Viruses can also replicate themselves and are often designed so that they automatically spread to other computer users. Viruses can be transmitted as attachments to an email, as downloads or via diskettes or CDs. Some viruses are harmless, but most can be quite damaging by erasing data or causing your hard disk to reformat.

Worms

Worms are self-replicating viruses that don't alter files but reside in active memory and duplicate themselves. Worms frequently use parts of an operating system that are automatic and usually invisible to the user. It's common for worms to be noticed only when their uncontrolled replication consumes system resources, slowing or halting other applications and traffic.

Trojan Horses

A Trojan horse is a malicious piece of code that is contained inside seemingly harmless programs or data. The purpose of a Trojan horse is to gain control of a computer and execute whatever it was programmed to do. Many Trojan horses are designed to damage data on your hard drives, send personal information to a hacker or corrupt your hard drive. In one celebrated case, a Trojan horse was programmed to find and destroy computer viruses. A Trojan horse may be widely redistributed as part of a computer virus.

Adware

Adware is any software application in which advertising banners are displayed while the program is running. The authors of these applications include additional code that delivers the ads, which can be viewed through pop-up windows or through a bar that appears on a computer screen.

Spyware

Spyware is software installed on your computer without your knowledge that gathers information such as surfing habits for later retrieval by advertisers and/or other interested parties. It can record and send through the internet your keystrokes, history, passwords and other confidential and private information. It is often sold as a spouse monitor, child monitor, surveillance tool or tool for spying on users to gain unauthorized access. It can enter a computer as a virus or through installation of a new program.

Rootkits

A rootkit is a set of processes or files that installs itself on your system without your knowledge or permission. Rootkits attempt to hide from antivirus, anti-spyware and system management utilities. Originally, rootkits were used on UNIX-based systems for benign purposes. Today, however, rootkits may be used to create a backdoor into your system for malicious purposes, such as intercepting information sent from your system, logging your keystrokes, using your system for denial of service attacks and other deviant activities. Rootkits exist on multiple operating systems including UNIX, Linux, Solaris and Microsoft Windows.

Botnets

A botnet is a network of compromised computers or other devices.

Compromised computers are often referred to as "bots" or sometimes "zombie" computers because they are controlled remotely by a botnet controller.

Botnet-compromised computers are infected with various types of malware, such as viruses, worms, Trojans and spyware. These infected computers are used by the controller (sometimes called a bot-herder) to carry out malicious cyberactivities such as stealing personal data from people's computers (including your own) and attacking other people's computers through a variety of techniques including Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) outages, coordinated phishing scams and transmission of mass emails with infected links from your personal email account.

If you think your computer may be botted, scan and clean your computer.

Zombie Computers

A zombie computer is a system that has been compromised by a virus. The virus typically installs remote access software on the compromised machine and the "host" machine takes control of the compromised computer. Zombie computers are often used to send spam or send overwhelming amounts of traffic to a targeted server, causing it to crash. This is called a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) outage.

DDoS Outage

A DDoS outage results from a coordinated effort by one or more hackers to slow down or bring down a website or web service. This is accomplished by using computers infected with botnets to swarm the targeted website's server with requests until it becomes overloaded. The botnets then continue to pummel the server with even more requests, which prevents legitimate users and traffic from gaining access to the site or service.

Once the server is overloaded, the website will appear to be down, unavailable or missing to everyone else.

Open DNS Resolver

Used in DDoS attacks, Open DNS Resolvers are used by hackers to "amplify" the number of requests they can send to a targeted website or service. If a company or individual is running their own web server and has any of their DNS Resolvers set to "open" (which means the resolvers do not verify where the request is coming from), hackers can use this setting to amplify the number of requests they can send to the targeted site by a factor of up to 100-to-1. This makes it easier for hackers to bring down large websites or organizations that have greater processing power. Learn more.

Remote Access Vulnerabilities

A computer that isn't configured to download the latest security updates such as Windows Updates, doesn't have a firewall, antivirus and anti-spyware installed has a higher risk of being accessed remotely. Also, a wireless router that is not encrypted with a password can be accessed without your authorization. Make sure that your wireless connection is secure by configuring your wireless router. For more information, call or visit the router manufacturer's website.

Browser Hijacking

Hijackware, is a type of malware that changes your PC's browser settings. It redirects your web browser to malicious and inappropriate sites that you would not normally visit.

Computer Hijacking

There are three common paths used to hijack a computer:

  • Web browser infection: Some web sites contain unknown, malicious programs known as Trojan horses that allow intruders to hijack and gain full control of a computer. Malicious websites can also expose you to various types of spyware and adware.
  • Email viruses: Email messages that prompt the recipient to unknowingly open a viral attachment represent a tried-and-true way to slip malicious code past firewalls and antivirus defenses.
  • Network worms: Computers can get turned into zombie machines with absolutely no intentional action taken by the computer owner. Malicious programs, called worms or bots, are responsible. The programs continuously scan the internet for Windows-based computers that have security holes, making them prime targets for hijacking.

Identity Theft

Identity theft is when an impostor obtains valuable information such as Social Security and driver's license numbers from their victim and uses the information as their own. The information can be used to receive credit, services, merchandise, etc.

Get more information on identity theft   .

Email Hoaxes

Hoaxes are nothing more than plain text information usually distributed as emails. While this is just text and cannot, by definition, cause problems directly, hoaxes are not harmless. A hoax might be as simple as a spam-generating chain letter about famous people giving away money, or it could be complex and potentially damaging. Several known hoaxes direct the reader to delete critical system files off the computer by claiming these files are viruses. Still other hoaxes are the front-ends for identity theft scams or get-rich-quick schemes. The broad range of possibilities make hoaxes hard to identify and hard to prevent. For more information about hoaxes, read tips from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team   .

Protection

Strong Usernames & Passwords

A strong username and password will help prevent intruders from accessing valuable information stored in your computer and online accounts.

Get more information on how to create a strong username and password   .

Preventing Viruses

The best prevention to catching a computer virus is installing antivirus, anti-spyware, firewall and security updates to your operating system. In addition to having the software installed on your computer, you need to make sure to keep it up-to-date and perform regular scans. Not taking these important precautions will leave your personal computer vulnerable to infection.

Today's viruses, worms and so-called "bots" (programs that turn your computer into a zombie) operate in the background and completely without your knowledge. They quietly alter data, steal personal information and use your PC for their illegal activities. It's hard to detect these programs if you do not have up-to-date protection.

Antivirus Software

Many new computers come with antivirus software preloaded. Such software often include a six- to 12-month subscription to the service and important updates. If you purchased the computer over a year ago, you may need to re-subscribe to the antivirus software or install new antivirus software. Once the subscription ends, the software will still be on your computer, however you will no longer receive updates. Most antivirus software companies charge a fee to renew the subscription.

If there is antivirus software loaded on your computer, you should be able to locate it in the Control Panel under the Add/Remove Programs list. Also, most antivirus programs have an icon in the system tray. Hoover your mouse over the icons so that the name of the program will be displayed. Do this until your locate your antivirus program. You may need to show hidden icons. Once you located the antivirus software, choose Start > Programs (or All Programs) > Select the name of the antivirus software to bring up a control center for the product. The control center window should display the date of the most recent updates. Some antivirus programs have a "live update" or "auto-update" feature accessible from a submenu of the program group on the Programs list.

Online Virus Scan

If you don't have antivirus software, you can scan your computer with an online virus scan (OLS). OLS will scan computer for malware and vulnerabilities. Scans can take 30 to 60 minutes to run depending on the speed of the connection and the number of files to be scanned.

When completed, the online scan will return a summary of the number of files scanned, the number of files infected and the names of the viruses found. The online scan will try to disinfect the files for you. If it can't, you may need to download the appropriate virus removal tool and follow the instructions to manually remove the virus.

An online virus scan will not prevent your system from becoming infected in the future. For maximum protection, install antivirus software on your computer and keep it up-to-date.

Security Suite

If you don't currently have antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall software on your computer, then there's no better time than now to download Security Suite.

Security Suite is available to Spectrum Internet customers at no additional cost (1).

Key features of Security Suite include:

  • Antivirus
  • Antispyware
  • Firewall
  • Rootkit Detection
  • Spam Control
  • Parental Controls

Get more information and download Security Suite   .

Computer Hijacking Protection

Security experts recommend the following safe practices:

  • Use antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall programs.
  • Keep your operating system up-to-date with the latest security patches.
  • Avoid suspicious pop-up windows.
  • Avoid opening email attachments from unknown sources. If you choose to open an attachment from a trusted source, scan it first for viruses before opening.
  • Avoid downloading freeware/shareware from a non-trusted source.
  • Avoid using Peer-to-Peer file sharing programs and networks.
  • Avoid visiting websites with questionable or inappropriate material.

Spyware & Adware Protection

Installing anti-spyware software such as Ad-Aware or Spybot Search and Destroy and scanning your computer on a regular basis will minimize your risk of getting spyware and adware.

See Computer Hijacking Protection above for additional information.

Security Suite also contains a feature called real-time spyware scanning (enabled by default) which will help keep your system free of spyware and adware. Get more information and download Security Suite   .

Charter Support for Spyware & Adware

Charter's Internet Technical Support Staff focuses support on the connectivity between cable modem and personal computer. The scope of support in solving spyware/adware issues that Charter can provide is very limited, therefore. We strongly suggest that you contact the vendor of the spyware removal product for additional support.

Protecting your Email

The use of email has become so popular that some unscrupulous individuals use this technology to defraud people of their valuable information such as an online banking password. In order to avoid becoming a victim, you need to educate and protect yourself.

Get more information on email security   .

Encryption

Encryption is the translation of data into a secret code in order to protect its confidentiality, integrity and authenticity.

  • Original data is called "plain text."
  • Encoded data is called "cipher text."
  • Plain text is automatically coded and sent as cipher text over the internet.
  • Any program receiving cipher text needs one or more encryption keys for decoding and using the data.

Wireless Security

The convenience of using a wireless connection to surf the internet from home or public area is now the choice for people who want instant connection. Unfortunately, with this type of convenience comes with security risk. It is easier for an intruder to capture your data when you transmit it wirelessly compare to a wired connection. Learn how to educate and protect yourself.

Turning off your Computer

A major benefit of turning your computer off when not in use is that your computer is less likely to be scanned by an intruder. In addition, by limiting the amount of time that your computer is online and unattended, the less vulnerable it will be to unwanted intrusions that can sometimes turn your computer into a zombie machine   . Also, by turning the computer off while not in use, you'll help conserve electricity, potentially extend the life of the computer's moving parts and protect the machine from electrical surges.

Privacy

Sending Private Information

Always use caution when providing private information online. Avoid sending private information such as your password, credit card number, secret word or PIN in an email. Only submit private information to trusted websites. When making a payment or buying something over the internet, make sure your connection is secure. The lock in the status or address bar of the browser indicates that the connection is secure. In addition depending on your settings, your browser may pop up an alert box to inform you when you are about to view pages over a secure connection. Secure sites use encryption and digital certificates to manage security of message transmissions over the internet.

Protecting Personal Information

The following tips will help protect your personal information while online.

  • Don't give online services, such as those providing free webmail, dating services or online games your personal information unless you understand those services' privacy policies regarding how personal information can be shared. Once personal information is on the internet, it is very hard to get it off.
  • Before making online purchases, read and understand the privacy policy for that particular website. Find out if the site shares information such as your name, address, credit card information, etc. with third-party companies.
  • Check to see how the company will use your personal information. This will prevent the website from sharing your personal information.
  • Consider creating a separate email address just for online purchases. That way, if the site that you decide to make a purchase with shares your information with a 3rd party, your primary email address will not be compromised.
  • Consider using "virtual" account numbers. This will protect your real credit card number from online fraud. Contact your financial institutional to see if this feature is available.
  • Consider adjusting your web browser's cookie settings. Turning off cookies, will help prevent tracking of your surfing habits.

Privacy Policies

A privacy policy is the policy under which the company or organization operating a website handles the personal information collected about who's visiting the site. Read Charter's Privacy Policy.

Acceptable Use

Charter's Acceptable Use Policy

An acceptable use policy (AUP) typically defines how you can use a particular service. You must agree to the company's AUP before using the service. View Charter's Acceptable Use Policy.

Copyright Infringement

A copyright infringement is the unauthorized use of a copyrighted material that violates the owner's exclusive rights to his/her own work.

Get more information on copyright infringement   .

Reporting Abuse

The most common types of internet abuse are spam, viruses, port scanning, hacking, threats and harassment and copyright infringement.

Get information and or report abuse   .

Browser Security

Unwanted Pop-Ups

Pop-up windows are advertisements that suddenly appear on your screen while you are connected to the internet. These annoying pop-up windows are often linked to websites that are automatically programmed to launch new pop-up windows periodically. Pop-ups may also be caused by a program such as adware running in the background on your computer.

Security experts recommend the following safe practices to help prevent pop-ups and malware:

  • Use antivirus, anti-spyware and firewall programs.
  • Keep your operating system up-to-date with the latest security patches.
  • If you receive a pop up, do not click inside the box. Simply click on the X on the right side of the pop-up window.
  • Avoid opening email attachments from unknown sources. If you choose to open an attachment from a trusted source, scan it first for viruses before opening.
  • Avoid downloading freeware/shareware from a non-trusted source.
  • Avoid using Peer-to-Peer file sharing programs and networks.
  • Avoid visiting websites with questionable or inappropriate material.

Cookies

A cookie is a data file stored on your computer by a website. A website uses cookies for user authentication, user tracking, and user personalization. A cookie is not a program. It is a basic text file containing strings of letters and numbers. A cookie file does not contain any personal information (such as name, address, account numbers, etc.). A website identifies you by matching the string of values in the cookie with the same string of values stored on their server.

Cookies come in different flavors. You can have first-party cookies and third-party cookies stored on your computer.

  • First-party cookies are cookies the actual website you are visiting places on your computer.
  • Third-party cookies are cookies advertisers place on your computer so they can track your habits across various websites. This allows advertisers to tailor advertisements to your presumed preferences.

There are two different ways a cookie can be stored. A cookie can be stored as a session cookie or a permanent cookie.

  • A session cookie is used only once while you are visiting a website. For example, a session cookie would be created while you added items to a shopping cart while are visiting your favorite online store. Once the items are purchased, the basket becomes empty.
  • A permanent cookie is a cookie that is accessed many times by a particular website. For example, you know you have a permanent cookie installed if you visit your favorite shopping website and it welcomes you back with your name.

By default, your web browser has cookie acceptance turned on. However, if you are concerned about privacy, you can elect to have cookies restricted or turned off. If you turn cookies completely off, some website features may not be available, or information may not be displayed properly. It is recommended that you turn off third-party cookies and accept first-party cookies from trusted websites.

You can find information on how to adjust your cookie preferences at the following websites:

Temporary Internet Files

The Temporary Internet Files folder, also known as the "cache folder," stores webpage content for more efficient surfing in the future. If you use a dial-up connection, this process makes your surfing faster because the web browser only has to load the new content of the page that you have previously visited. With a Spectrum Internet account, you will notice little difference between loading a cached page and a page that has not been previously cached.

Clearing the contents of the Temporary Internet Files folder on a regular basis removes corrupted content, releases system resources, and frees up hard drive space. Most web browsers will also allow you to adjust the folder size to your particular preference.

Manage Temporary Internet Files folder

Choose a link below for more information on how to manage your Temporary Internet Files folder:

Browser Security Features

Most modern web browsers have the ability to accept or perform the following security features:

  • Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) allows you to send information to secure sites with safety and confidence.
  • Secure sites are equipped to prevent unauthorized people from seeing the data sent to and from those sites. When viewing a secure site, your web browser displays a lock icon on the status or address bar.
  • Site Certificates verify a website's identity so you can feel secure that credit card numbers and other information you send over the internet go to the certificate owner and no one else.
  • Security Zones let you assign Web sites different security levels, based on your level of confidence.
  • Security Alerts warn you before you visit, submit, or download items with the potential of threatening your security.

For more information about browser security, read tips from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team   .

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)

The SSL protocol was developed by Netscape in 1994 to encrypt transactions. The SSL protocol authenticates using public-key cryptography and digital certificates (2). Most web browsers support SSL encryption and is used my many websites to secure confidential user information such as credit card numbers. To verify if the website is transmitting information using SSL, look for https:// instead of http:// in the address bar.

Security Suite is available at no additional cost for Spectrum Internet customers. Charter does not guarantee data will be secure.

Krutz, R., Vines, R. (2007). The CISSP and CAP Prep Guide: Platinum Edition (Ed.), Cryptography (p. 281). Whiley Publishing, Inc.

All marks belong to their respective owners. Some of the links in this article are to internet sites maintained by third parties. No inference or assumption should be made and no representation may be implied that either Charter or its affiliated entities operates or controls in any way any information, products or services on these third party sites.