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Archived Page: Guide to Online Protection

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Protect Your Personal Information

Because you can control the information you choose to release, you are the single best person to protect your personal information. There are some easy ways do this like keeping anything with any personal or account information in a safe place and providing your information only to trusted sources.

Always be skeptical when providing your personal information. If you can't verify the legitimacy of the government entity, business or person requesting your information by calling the parent organization and verifying their contact with you, or if you don't understand why a certain piece of information is needed, do not provide it.

Understand Online Risks

Email and fraudulent websites

A criminal may send you an email that looks like it has come from a legitimate government entity or business. These phony emails ask you to go to a Web site that also looks legitimate and provide your personal account information. Some of these phony e-mails even caution that if you don't do this, your accounts may be suspended or worse. But the website is as fake as the email and is a fraud attempt.

This is one of the most common types of online fraud, and is called "phishing or spoofing." Criminals send these phony email messages or direct someone to a fraudulent Web site for one goal: to steal your personal and financial information. Legitimate entities will never ask for your personal information via email.

If you should ever receive an email that appears to be suspicious, do not reply to it or click on the link it provides. Simply delete it. To report a suspicious email that uses the Commonwealth of Virginia's name or the name of one of its agencies, you can forward it to CommonwealthSecurity@VITA.Virginia.Gov


Spyware, viruses, worms and trojans are all malicious programs that are loaded onto your computer without your knowledge and commonly referred to as malware. Whether the goal of these programs is to capture or destroy information, to attack other computers or to swamp your computer with advertising, you don't want them.

Viruses and worms spread by infecting computers and then replicating. Spyware and trojans disguise themselves as a legitimate application and embed themselves into your computer, to monitor your activity, collect information and deliver it back to online criminals.

All are serious threats to the security of your computer.

Keeping Your Computer Healthy

You don't have to be an expert in computers to protect yourself from online fraud and identity theft. Make certain that your computer has the tools it needs to protect you! Make sure that you have up to date anti-spyware, anti-virus and a personal firewall installed on your computer. There are many of these products available that will help you prevent criminals from gaining access to your computer and stealing your personal information.

How do I tell if there is malware installed on my computer?

The following symptoms may indicate that your computer has been infected with malware:

  • You are subjected to endless pop-up windows

  • You are redirected to Web sites other than the one you typed into your Web browser

  • New, unexpected toolbars appear in your Web browser

  • New, unexpected icons appear in the task tray at the bottom of your screen

  • Your browser's home page suddenly changed

  • The search engine your browser opens when you click "search" has been changed

  • Certain keys fail to work in your browser (e.g., the tab key doesn't work when you are moving to the next field within a form)

  • Random Windows error messages begin to appear

  • Your computer suddenly seems very slow when opening programs or processing tasks (saving files, etc.)

Protecting Against Malware

There are several easy ways to protect your computer against malware:

  • Anti-spyware protection: Make sure your computer has an anti-spyware protection program that detects and removes all forms of spyware, which can steal vital information. Use this program to scan your computer frequently. Many software companies offer software that will protect you from a wide variety of spyware threats, and also will provide customer service in case you have questions. To keep up with any new threats, be sure to keep your anti-spyware program updated.
    A list of trustworthy anti-spyware programs is available from:
  • Anti-virus protection: Make sure your computer has an anti-virus protection program that detects and removes viruses. Software from major providers will protect you from a wide variety of threats, and also will provide customer service in case you have questions. Be sure to always keep your anti-virus program updated.
    A list of trustworthy anti-virus programs is available from:
  • Firewalls: Firewalls can be utilized both on your home network and directly on your PC. Those that run directly on your PC are called "personal firewalls" and help protect your PC wherever it may be.
    A list of trustworthy personal firewalls is available from:
  • Automatic upgrades: Buy a protection program that automatically upgrades your spyware or virus protection on a recurring basis. If you don't have this automatic upgrade feature, make sure you update your spyware and virus detection programs daily, as well as whenever you hear of a new computer threat.
  • Attachments: Don't open attachments or other downloads unless you're sure that you can trust the source. Learn how to manually screen downloads and attachments if your anti-virus software doesn't automatically do so.
  • Avoid unused software programs: Do not clutter your computer with unnecessary software programs. If you have programs on your computer that you do not use, consider uninstalling them.
  • Establish guidelines for computer use: If there are multiple people using your computer, especially children, make sure they understand how to use the computer and Internet safely. Setting boundaries and guidelines will help to protect your data.
  • Contact your ISP: Your Internet service provider (ISP) may have more recommendations and technical support for protecting your identity and computer while online. Contact your ISP for recommendations specific to your computer and network.