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What you can do

Illustration of a person on a computer with an x on the screen and a bandit with his hand up.
Illustration by Celia Johnson
8 ways to curb spam

• Don't buy anything promoted in a spam message. Even if the offer isn't a scam, you are helping to finance and encourage spam.

• Don't reply to spam or click on its “unsubscribe” link. That informs the sender that your e-mail address is valid.

• If your e-mail program has a preview pane, disable it to prevent the spam from reporting back to its sender.

• If you receive spam that promotes a brand, complain to the company behind the brand by postal mail, which makes more of a statement than e-mail.

• Use one e-mail address for family and friends, another for everyone else. Or pick up a free one from Hotmail, Yahoo, or a disposable forwarding-address service such as SpamMotel. When an address attracts too much spam, abandon it for a new one. Instead of an address like janedoe@isp.com, select one with embedded digits, like jane8doe2@isp.com.

• If your Internet service provider is filtering your e-mail and you still get lots of spam, the ISP may not be filtering effectively. Check its filtering features and compare them with those of competitors.

• Report spam to your ISP, so that it can do a better job of filtering. To help the Federal Trade Commission control spam, forward it to spam@uce.gov.

• Don't post your e-mail address in its normal form on a publicly accessible Web page. Post it in a form, such as “Jane AT isp DOT com,” that can't be easily read by the harvesting software many spammers use to collect e-mail addresses.

8 ways to foil viruses & Hackers

• Don't open an e-mail attachment, even from someone you know well, unless you were expecting it.

• Use antivirus software, updated often to recognize the latest threats. Heed security alerts e-mailed directly from antivirus vendors to download antidotes for newly circulating viruses and worms.

• If you have broadband service, install a firewall with both incoming and outgoing protection, so that a spammer can't plant a program on your computer to propagate a virus or turn your computer into a spamming machine.

• Regularly update your operating system, Web browser, and other major software, using the manufacturers' update features. For Windows, run Windows Update from the Start menu. For Macintosh, go to the Software Update Control Panel.

• Make regular backups of important data. You can make yourself less of a target by using applications that aren't as widely adopted as Microsoft products are--Eudora e-mail, say, or the Mozilla Firefox browser.

• To foil password-cracking software, use passwords that are at least eight characters long, including at least a numeral and a symbol, such as #. Avoid common words, and never disclose a password online.

• With a DSL or cable connection, staying online increases exposure. When you aren't using the computer, shut off the modem or the computer itself.

• Don't forward any e-mail warning about a new virus. It may be a hoax or outdated. Check for hoaxes at www.vmyths.com.

5 ways to avoid spyware

• Download and install software only from online sources you trust. Be wary of free music and movie file-sharing programs. Exercise caution with ad-supported applications, particularly if the ad component is provided by a third party. Close windows containing pop-up ads or unexpected warnings only by closing the entire window, not by clicking within the window.

• When installing software, read the license agreement before clicking on Agree or OK. Read any privacy statements. If those are difficult to find or include questionable practices, abort the installation by closing the window in which it's occurring. But don't try to close it by clicking on Yes or I Accept.

• Adjust your Web browser software's security settings. If you use Microsoft Internet Explorer 6, keep its security level at medium or higher to block Web sites from downloading a file without your authorization. That also prevents Web pages from automatically running Windows active scripts.

• Use updated antispyware software to scan your hard drive regularly. Always download it from a trusted site, either the vendor's or one you know well.

• Learn more about spyware at www.pchell.com/support/spyware.shtml and at www.spywareguide.com.

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