Making Instant Messaging Safer

By Alex Polling


    It is undeniable that Instant Messaging has become a very popular means of communication. ICQ, Yahoo! Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, and MSN Messenger are used all over the world.
    Using IM we can talk to our kids, friends, relatives, find people with common interests. And just as there are rules that we follow in our everyday life to make it safer, there are rules for online communication with other people. For example, we don't tell everything about ourselves to people we don't know or to people that look suspicious, we don't open doors to strangers and we don't take everything they give us. In other words, there are some useful limits that allow us to feel safe. Naturally, the same relates to our online activities, which has tended to take up more of people's time in recent years. Further in this article you will see a number of guidelines to help make your instant messaging safer for you and your computer, thus avoiding the consequences of painful trial-and-error learning.

    Pay attention to personal info.
    If you've specified your interests in your messenger, other people can find you by these interests. This is the good side of it; the bad side is that this information can be used for unwanted purposes. The ideal solution is to ask your kid to specify as little information as possible.
Ask your kid not to reveal his age in the personal information section of his messenger.
It's also possible for someone with criminal intent to determine the age or gender using the information specified in the Interests section.
    We also should educate our kids not to give their trust to online strangers based upon looking at their personal info, which can look like the personal info of a teenager or whomever the teenager can trust. The identity, if someone pretends to be a friend or a classmate, should be verified with additional questions.

    Restrict communication to trusted sources.
    It's safest if you configure authorization of your online messaging software to protect you from spam or undesired communication by allowing authorized users only.
It can also could be a good idea to work in "invisible" mode more often, reducing the chances of being noticed by online criminals or being sent a link to a site/file containing a malicious code, while at the same time remaining visible to people from your list.
    Messages offering to visit porn sites are not rare at all in the IM world. Mentioning this in advance to your kid will be a good solution, you accept that this can happen and let you child know that he can just close the window with that message, just continuing what he was doing before.

    Files.
IM tools have methods for sending and receiving files. The bad side of it is that this makes your system more vulnerable. The files you receive can contain viruses, Trojans, worms that can destroy your data, your system, or use it with a criminal purpose. While using IM it is also important to be aware of worms, which spread using the features and methods of your instant messenger.

    Worms.
    You can also get a message that looks like it comes from a person on your contact list, but that actually is a worm that uses contact lists for its propagation.
Such messages (and other messages too) can contain links to web sites that will exploit holes in your browser. That is, while using IM software, it's good to keep your browser up to date.

    While providing a lot of nice features, IM comes with risks that shouldn't be underestimated. Use these simple guidelines to understand more about the situations where you should be more attentive and careful. This will make your online communications much safer.


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