There's so many fundamental issues with privacy and keeping your data secure that it's difficult to find a solution for general internet security problems. Although the use of security software, up to date virus protection and keeping your OS up to date obviously play an essential role in being safe there is one more important area.
This is education, understanding how the internet works, where and what are the main risks of being online. It can make a huge difference in how safe people are, and it is perfectly illustrated in dealing with the common online scams.
The more awareness you have with the backdrop of internet security problems the safer you'll be, it's as simple as that. Let's look at some simple areas of knowledge that can make you aware of the security problems that are around us.
Ok first things first - the fundamental building block of the internet, the way you request and receive the majority of web pages. This happens using HTTP (Hyper Text Transport Protocol), you will notice it at the beginning of most web addresses. It's fast and efficient but the problem is it's all in clear text. That means all information you request or send is potentially visible to anyone who has access to your data.
You probably think that nobody does but I'm afraid again that's simply not true. Any information passed using HTTP in any environment is vulnerable. This is simply because you don't have a direct connection with the specific web site you are using. Your connection and all your data are transferred through lots of little points on the Internet (called HOPS). The first point is the ISP, you connect to the rest of the internet through them so they have access to ALL YOUR DATA.
Yep that's right your ISP do know you visited those ahem 'artistic web sites' last Saturday night, they also know what emails you have sent, what other web sites you visit and lots more information simply because all your data passes through their servers and routers. Your data will also pass through lots of other Hops on route to the web servers (and back again)
To get an idea for this - just follow this - start a command prompt, you'll find this listed under programs/accessories for most versions on windows.
Now at the command prompt type the following --
Tracing route to www.l.google.com [18.104.22.168]
over a maximum of 30 hops:
1 1 ms <1 ms <1 ms 192.168.1.1
2 31 ms 29 ms 31 ms gamiel-dsl1.ls.zen.net.uk [22.214.171.124]
3 29 ms 29 ms 31 ms nietzsche-ge-0-0-2-204.ls.zen.net.uk [126.96.36.199
4 31 ms 31 ms 31 ms nozick-ge-3-1-0-0.ls.zen.net.uk [188.8.131.52]
5 37 ms 38 ms 39 ms lorenz-ge-3-0-0-0.te.zen.net.uk [184.108.40.206]
6 39 ms 39 ms 45 ms 220.127.116.11
7 39 ms 39 ms 37 ms 18.104.22.168
8 46 ms 47 ms 45 ms 22.214.171.124
9 45 ms 47 ms 51 ms 126.96.36.199
10 47 ms 49 ms 53 ms 188.8.131.52
11 46 ms 47 ms 49 ms wy-in-f104.google.com [184.108.40.206]
You should get some information like the above. So what does this all mean - well basically it's the route that your information will travel to reach it's destination and you can see in this example I would go through 11 Hops to reach the Google.com servers.
Every one if those stepping points can log the information in my request, including my IP address which is linked to my actual account. We can see one of the fundamental problems of computer security on the internet, it's not a very private place our information gets routed through a backbone spread across the world. We have to trust this backbone to deliver our web requests and bring back our content.
Above the first Hop 192.168.1.1 is my router, then the next few hops are through my ISP, then you see the little journey my information travels on and through. All these steps have my web request and my IP address in clear text.
If you want to look up who, or where your data is travelling across you can look up the owners of there hops at these two addresses -
Network Solutions Whois
Just search on the website or IP address and you can see who owns these. Unless you are encrypting your connection you have no choice but to trust all these people with your web browsing details.
These WHOIS requests (that is from a WHO IS command) are also useful to use if you are suspicious about different web sites. Many people trying to steal your information will set up web sites with very similar names to the websites they are impersonating if you are in doubt check out who owns the website from the links above.
The point I'm making is that you should presume that your data can be intercepted unless you protect in some way. Make sure you're careful online, if a web site doesn't look quite right, don't use it. Be aware don't blindly click on links in emails or visit dodgy sounding sites. Remember your default position as a standard internet citizen is that you have little privacy and protection. Internet security problems are vast and varied, but generally the people who most often get caught out is those with the least amount of knowledge of the issues and the technology.