Top 10 Ways to Protect Your IM

The good news: Sending an instant message or IM is often the quickest and easiest way to communicate online with friends and co-workers.

The bad news: IM is an increasingly popular way for cyber-criminals to distribute worms, viruses and Trojans, as well as to commit fraud. Hackers like to target IM because they can use network ports that are already open for the IM client instead of having to open suspicious new ports.

Today, sophisticated multi-faceted attacks are launched through IM as frequently as they are through e-mail. Hackers exploit operating system and browser vulnerabilities to deliver malware like Trojan keyloggers and screen scrapers that steal personal information, and to turn PCs into hijacked "zombies" used to commit crimes.

Here are 10 ways you can protect your IM:

1. Choose your screen name carefully. Don't use your real name, e-mail address or other personally identifiable information.

2. Only share your screen name with people you trust and ask them to keep it private. Only communicate with people on your contact or buddy list. To prevent "spim" (IM spam), use settings to block messages from people you don't know.

3. Don't display your screen name or e-mail address in public places such as Internet directories or personal profiles. Some IM services link your screen name to your e-mail address when you register. Consider setting up a secondary e-mail account if this is the case, since your address could be harvested for phishing attacks.

4. Never provide private information, such as account numbers or passwords, in an IM conversation. Network sniffers can intercept unencrypted IM traffic. Anti-virus software and a firewall will protect you from Trojans and viruses, but they cannot protect your information once it leaves your PC.

5. Fortify your computer with strong security software and keep it up to date. The McAfee Internet Security Suite guarantees trusted PC protection from viruses, hackers and spyware. Its cutting-edge features include X-Ray for Windows, which detects and kills rootkits and other malicious applications that hide from anti-virus programs. Its integrated anti-virus, anti-spyware, firewall, anti-spam, anti-phishing and backup technologies work together to combat today's sophisticated, multi-pronged attacks. For information on the McAfee Internet Security Suite, click here.

6. Configure your IM application correctly. Make sure it does not open automatically when you fire up your computer. Turn off your computer and disconnect the DSL or modem line when you're not using it.

7. Enable automatic Windows updates or download Microsoft updates regularly to keep your operating system patched against known vulnerabilities. Install patches from other software manufacturers as soon as they are distributed. A fully patched computer behind a firewall is the best defense against Trojan and spyware installation.

8. Configure your anti-virus software to automatically scan all e-mail and IM attachments and downloaded files. Never open attachments from people you don't know. If you know the sender, contact that person to confirm the file is trustworthy. Beware of spam-based phishing schemes. Don't click on links in e-mails or instant messages.

9. Be careful when using P2P file sharing with IM. Trojans sit within file sharing programs waiting to be downloaded. Avoid files with the extensions .exe, .scr, .lnk, .bat, .vbs, .dll, .bin, and .cmd. Configure your file settings to limit the folders that other users can access.

10. Monitor and limit your children's use of IM. Put the computer in a high-traffic family area and limit nighttime use. Parental controls in the McAfee security software help parents control the information that their children receive and send.

--From the Editors at Netscape

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