Is it safe to register for a meeting on the Web or to use a credit card to purchase airline tickets online? Are you in danger of catching a virus when you download files from the Web? There's a lot of inaccurate information going around about security. Here's the real truth:
Fallacy # 1: It's Dangerous to Use a Credit Card on the Web Not true. Statistically, it is safer to buy things over the Web than in face-to-face transactions. Most commercial Web sites code transactions before sending them over the Internet, making it nearly impossible for anyone to "steal" a message in transmission from these sites. Nevertheless, it is advisable to take precautions to ensure a safe credit card transaction:
* Purchase only from secure sites that have the "closed padlock" or "unbroken key" icons at the bottom of the browser. If the site is not secure, don't use your credit card.
* Make sure you are using the latest versions of browsers. Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers are free and they continue to improve security features.
* Know (or at least have a good idea) who you are buying from. A con-artist could set up an official looking cyber store-front and, yet, be a fake.
* Don't e-mail your credit card number! E-mail is not as safe as the Web, and it is much easier for your number to be intercepted.
* If your card is stolen, your maximum liability for credit card fraud is $50, as long as you call the card company when you suspect fraud. Also, with buyer protection policies, if you do not get what you ordered, you can challenge it through the credit card company.
Fallacy # 2: Downloading Files and Programs Will Give You a Virus The reality is that viruses are relatively rare on the Internet. It has been my experience (in downloading thousands of programs and hundreds of browser plug-ins) to have caught only two viruses in ten years--and both were easy to correct. Virus hoaxes are much more common than viruses themselves (see www.kumite.com for details).
However, as rare as viruses are, a single computer virus infection can be very problematic. Here are some tips to avoid catching a virus in the first place:
* Install a current virus protection program on your computer. This program will automatically detect, intercept, and destroy viruses before damage is done.
* Back up your crucial files regularly. Some viruses can destroy data and programs, and backing up your files provides added protection.
* Treat unknown program files (i.e. anything ending in ".exe" or ".com") or mail attachments with caution. If you suspect the source, scan them for viruses before you install or open these files.
Fallacy # 3: Internet "Cookies" Should Not Be Accepted Don't believe it. An Internet cookie is an electronic "post-it note" that some Web sites put on your computer hard drive to recognize you when return. As a Web visitor, you are anonymous unless you tell them who you are. For example, the "Members Only" section of Meeting Professionals International's Web site (www.mpiweb.org) requires visitors to sign up using a member ID number during the first visit, which it will remember in successive visits, eliminating the hassle of logging in each time. In the forum section of the Meeting Industry Mall (www.mim.com), you sign up once and don't have to do it again. Cookies are also helpful if you wish to customize your view of the site to your preferences (see my.yahoo.com for an example).
Cookies are common. They help the Web surfer by allowing a site to remember log-in information and preferences, and they help the site designers by allowing them to know who is visiting. For a full description of cookies, see www.cookiecentral.com. If you're still concerned, here are a few suggestions:
* If you work on a PC and wish to see the cookies already on your system, go to the Windows directory and look in the Cookies folder. These are Simple Text files, and can be viewed simply by clicking on the file names.
* You can program the browser to warn you before accepting a cookie, or to forbid their receipt altogether. Whether you decide to do this is a personal decision based on how comfortable you are giving out information. I accept all cookies, but I am also very careful about how much and what type of personal information I give out.
The Internet provides more information faster than ever before. But it will also continue to present challenges concerning security and privacy. It's important to understand where the risks are--and are not--to use the Internet more productively for our business needs.