As mentioned elsewhere, prevention is often the best way of tackling many problems, and this is particularly the case when it comes to issues on computer security.
Pop-up windows that appear without warning can be evidence of spyware, while junk email that advertises all manner of nonsense can be offensive. Spam, as it is called, can be dangerous, too, as many such emails attempt to trick you into visiting websites used for fraudulent purposes. For example, they may pretend to be from your online bank or eBay, asking you to ‘confirm’ personal data such as your account number and password – a crime known as ‘phishing’.
Don’t worry, though; using Windows Vista’s built-in defences it’s easy to set up your PC against spam, pop-ups and scammers. This article will show you how.
Tip 1 – Most of Vista’s defences against the threats I have mentioned are switched on by default, but there’s no harm in checking. We’ll start with the anti-spam tool in Windows Mail, which is the new name for the built-in Windows email program that was called Outlook Express in XP. Open the program in the Start menu bar at the top of the screen. Select Junk E-mail Options from the list that appears. The main Options tab displays the program’s basic filters. The first option gives you the means of disabling all spam filtering – I don’t recommend this. The option set by default is Low, which filters out obvious junk mail with subject lines such as ‘free Viagra’ and moves it into the Junk E-mail folder.
Tip 2 – If you use email only occasionally and don’t give companies permission to tell you about special offers, you may choose to change this option to High. As the explanation next to the option states, some legitimate mail may get caught in the net so check your Junk E-mail folder occasionally. To be totally safe from spam, you can set Windows Mail to move all messages into the Junk E-mail folder unless the sender matches an email address specified by you. To do so, click the option marked Safe List Only and then click the tab marked Safe Senders at the top of the screen. To add the email address of a friend, relative or trusted business, click the Add button and enter the address.
Tip 3 – What you have set up there is called a ‘white list’. The opposite is called a ‘black list’ and enables you to manually define a list of addresses from which any communication will be dispatched to the Junk E-mail folder. To set up a black list, click the tab labelled Blocked Senders and then click the Add button to insert individual email addresses. Some spammers use multiples addresses from the same domain – the name used to identify a group or company on the Internet. For example, Microsoft’s domain is ‘Microsoft.com’. To filter out emails from an organisation enter its domain name.
Tip 4 – You can also pick out individual emails and mark the address or domain to be added to your white/black lists. Just hover your mouse cursor over the email in your inbox and click the right mouse button. From the list that appears, move the cursor to Junk E-mail; hold the cursor and a new list appears that gives you the option to add the sender of that message or its domain to the Blocker Senders or Safe Senders lists. The process can even be reversed. On the left-hand side of the Windows Mail window is a list of folders. Left-click the Junk E-mail folder, locate the message marked as spam, right-click it, go to Junk Email, click Mark as Not Junk.
Tip 5 – Now let’s look at anti-phishing tools. Phishing emails encourage you to click links in an email that takes you to a website crafted to look legitimate. Vista provides a filter in Windows Mail to detect the fraudulent emails an in its browser, Internet Explorer 7, to warn you should you visit a phisher’s website. In the Windows Mail Junk E-mail options window is a tab labelled Phishing. Click it to ensure the filter id on (inset). Open Internet Explorer and click the Tools menu on the right-hand side. Hover your cursor over the Phishing Filter option and make sure your settings in the list that appears match those in the above example. If not, click ‘Turn On Automatic Website Checking’.
Tip 6 – Internet Explorer 7 allows you to block or allow pop-ups. Some pop-ups try to trick you into downloading spyware, ironically by warning you that spyware has infected your PC, but pop-ups are used legitimately, too. To access anti-pop-up settings in the browser, click the Tools menu and select Pop-Up Blocker and then Pop-Up Blocker Settings. If you find you can’t use certain features on a website, the pop-up blocker may be kicking in. To get around this, enter the full name of the website in the text field and click Close. You can remove the website’s permission to launch a pop-up in the same dialogue box by highlighting it in the Allowed site list and clicking Remove.