“What’s the use of the Internet – apart from going on the Internet…”
– Jacob Berger, Transfert magazin, January 1999
In only a few years, a lot has changed: the transition from the 20th to the 21st centuries was a huge leap forward for the Internet and for the computational power of electronic devices.
The first decade of the Third Millennium will be immortalised in the annals and history books as the Rise of the Internet, to the point that Craig Barret wrote: “Internet will be to the economy of the 21st century what oil was in the 20th century.”
It seems clear now that only hermits and pensioners can live without ADSL, VDSL2 and other fibre-optics: for the rest of us – whether firms or private persons – an Internet connection has become indispensable.
Disconnection from reality, Big Brother, the destruction of the “right to forget”, viruses, digital fraud, pornography – the underside of this virtual universe can be frightening, coining the phrase “Infernet”.
However, the Web is above all a tool, a tool that can be used for good or bad, can be useful or time-wasting, depending on the use we make of it.
If it can help acquire things difficult to find in physical shops (we are thinking of collectors!) or give new life to areas suffering from rural depopulation thanks to home office work, it is also the playground of cybercriminals.
From pedophiles to piracy, the range is wide; the internet has become a haven for con artists, as was the proliferation of telephones before it and door-to-door fraud before that.
It’s easy to play into the hands of hackers and expose your electronics – not to mention your bank account or your whole existence – without realising it. With these articles, we hope to answer some of your questions and help you preserve your money and privacy.
It’s hard to imagine a sailor without a ship, Christopher Columbus without his Santa Maria and her crew.
It’s the same principle when surfing the web: you need a web browser (your “surfboard”, if you will) to get from one site to another. But first let’s look at some basics.
Firefox is one of several browser options for surfing the Internet. Photo credit: portalgda on VisualHunt
According to public statistics, Internet speed increases every year throughout Britain, in a weblike pattern: first the big cities, then their suburbs and industrial parks (funded by the companies that have their offices and production facilities there), before spreading out to the rural communities where public funding must cover the cost.
An inconvenient side-effect of this added speed is that web designers take advantage of it to clutter their pages with all sorts of pictures (HD if they can get it), videos, flash animation, cookies, spyware, adwares, sound files… So that, in the end, the actual surfing experience is no faster than before. It might be slightly more fluid in the high-velocity regions, but if you live somewhere where 56 k or ADSL is still the norm, modern websites will creep along at a snail’s pace and make you wish for the modem days.
But whatever your Internet speed, you need to know that what you see on the screen is not all that is hidden within the site code.
Indeed, an IT student learns all sorts of programming languages, codes, shortcuts, tags… HTML, PHP, xHTML: these are the programming languages that built the Internet. And since each web browser is an independent software, it interprets the code slightly differently: this is why some site bugs only appear when using Mozilla Firefox, but not with Opera (and vice-versa).
This means that it’s generally a good idea to have two different browsers installed: if a http site is not loading, you can always try accessing it from another browser to see if the problem is with the browser or the site itself.
There are many options for web browsers – each one has different advantages and disadvantages. Photo credit: Animaux on Visualhunt
Another thing to consider: friends and family will probably suggest a specific browser. This is all well and good, and no doubt he or she is trustworthy, but consider that some browsers are optimised for specific operating systems: Windows is not the same as MacOS or GNU/Linux, a tablet doesn’t work the same as a tower PC nor is a Blackberry the same thing as an Android smartphone or an iPad.
Once you know the difference, you can better choose between Google Chrome, Safari, Mozilla Firefox or even Microsoft Edge – or even go indie, if you like.
The good new is that they’re free, have customer support and that there are beginner IT courses out there to help you get started! Deep Dive into the best internet browsers here.
Staying healthy means battling sickness and not allowing it any rights over a healthy body.
We know of doctors for the body and the mind, but there are digital doctors, too: antivirus software that are there to protect your hard drive against invasive foreign elements.
Like real virus research, computer viruses are fought in labs where antivirus software specialists do their best to fight them. Photo credit: AVG Technologies on VisualHunt
A digital platform is a collection of titles, texts, images and interactive tools, all saved onto a connected server. To see them, read them and interact with them, that information needs to be downloaded onto your computer or Cloud as “temporary files.”
This need not be a bad thing – in a world of rainbows and unicorns, this modus operandi wouldn’t inconvenience anyone.
Unfortunately, we live in another world entirely and, with all due hope to someday achieve something better, we are forced to deal with ill-wishers and even malevolent individuals.
For sometimes, a domain name can hide a computer virus – or even several!
This can happen if the site itself is not secure enough; and once your electronic device is infected – if you haven’t taken sufficient precautions – it in turn can infect others.
It’s a true Pandora’s box with the most diverse applications imaginable: Trojans, spyware, malware, worms, retroviruses, rootkits, keyloggers, backdoors, browser hijackers, ransomware… We need a Grey’s Anatomy of virtual pathologies to name them all!
This list alone should be sufficient incentive to install antivirus software onto your home computer or office PC. The best, of course, are costly, but it’s better to have a free solution (though they might need to be completed by other free programmes specialised in a specific type of menace) than none at all.
It is rather fitting that, like storms and hurricanes, the most destructive viruses get named: MyDomm.A, Cabir, PsybOt, Tchernobyl, CIH, Conficker…
The most frustrating thing of all might be being taken in by a fake antivirus (a kind of wolf in sheep’s clothing that installs malware on your hard drive instead of fighting it) or being attacked by a “retrovirus”, a type of computer virus that specifically targets security systems.
Don’t forget to activate your firewall, either, especially if you are running Windows – the most common operating system on the planet and, probably not surprisingly, the most commonly attacked. A beginner computer class will help you find the right one for your Internet browser and teach you how to install it.
Ubuntu and Mac users, as well as Android and iOS afficionados, are not as much at risk – but for how long? Digital attacks are multiplying, even on Macbooks, iPads and other tablets: malware is on the rise!
In this day and age, who would leave their door wide open when departing for a two-week holiday or park a car in the centre of London when the locks don’t work and they have a gold bar sitting enticingly on the dashboard?
It’s the same for the Internet: you need to know how to protect your information while surfing. The ideal solution for blocking digital intruders automatically is often simply a good antivirus. But it’s not enough. The main weak point in the chain is you.
To quote Alistair Moody, Harry Potter’s Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher: “Constant vigilance!”
Be responsible and prudent when surfing the Net. Many hoaxes and frauds are merely re-packaged age-old confidence tricks. Where before a nice salesman knocked at your door, a telemarketer sweet-talked you into buying 100 tins of wax you will never use (thus putting you on their list for future scams) and letters arrived in your mailbox informing you that you have won a lottery you never entered, and all they need to send you your money is your bank information… now you receive e-mails from an African prince, phishing mails disguised as Amazon, Paypal or even your credit card company using fake login websites to steal your passwords, or find pop-ups blocking the site your want to see and informing you that you are the 100,000th visitor and should claim your prize.
Spyware is everywhere – do what you can to protect yourself. Photo credit: mathplourde on VisualHunt
Be as careful as you can. Don’t click on links within an email, instead type the website into your browser manually (Amazon, Paypal, etc.) and log in from there to verify if the problem mentioned in the email is real. Don’t click on shady promotional offers, don’t sign up for every newsletter just because you want to visit a site (search around for the “x” button – it’s usually cleverly hidden somewhere).
On social media, avoid posting personal details (especially if your password is your dog’s name!), informing potential burglars of when you will be out of the house, or posting pictures of your child and mentioning where he goes to school.
Protect your career, too, current or future, by not posting offensive or insulting comments or pictures of yourself or friends in embarrassing situations… The Internet never forgets, and employers as well as headhunters have taken to googling prospective employees. Even the police sometimes trawls the Net looking for certain keywords – so don’t mention you huge collection of illegally downloaded movies or smoking weed when you live in an area that cracks down on it.
Want to know more? Why not take private IT courses with one of our Superprof tutors?