Protect Yourself From Internet Fraud

Protect from cyber attacksInternet scammers will always be out there looking to profit off of unsuspecting victims. Here, we take a look at a few of the most common threats.


Phishing is a tactic criminals use to collect personal, financial and and other sensitive information by using mails, text messages and websites designed to look like they come from well-known and trusted businesses, banks and government agencies. As an example of a typical phishing scam, you receive an official looking email from a bank, complete with a copy of the bank logo and the bank’s “look and feel”. The email might ask the you to follow a link to update or verify your banking information. If you click the link you’re sent to a website that looks cosmetically exactly like their bank’s real website. You’re then asked for information such as your username and password, social insurance number, full name, date of birth, full address, mother’s maiden name and so on.

Phishing criminals can then use your personal information to:

  • Access your financial accounts
  • Transfer funds
  • Apply for credit cards
  • Make purchases
  • Access your personal email account
  • Hide criminal activities

Be wary of any messages you receive requesting personal or financial information. Check your bank and credit card statements regularly to make sure all transactions are legitimate.


Pharming is similar to phishing in that both scams try to fool you into supplying fake websites with sensitive information. Pharming scams are more sophisticated because they don’t require an email or other message to “bait” you into visiting a site. Instead, the scammer compromises your system with malicious software that redirects your web browser to a fake website, even if you type in a legitimate website address directly into your web browser.

To protect yourself against pharming scams, check the certificate of the website you’re visiting. Make sure the name of the certificate matches the site you’re visiting. To do this, click on the small lock icon next to the website address in your browser. Additionally, ensure that you have good anti-malware software tools installed on your system, especially if you’re running Windows as your operating system.

Pharming scams are currently less common than phishing scams but this is likely to change as criminals become more sophisticated and embrace new techniques.


Hackers find and exploit weaknesses in computers or computer networks. Malicious hackers break into networks to steal information, destroy data or bring down the network rendering it unusable.

To help protect from hackers:

  • Use anti-malware software
  • Don’t run unknown programs you receive in emails or download from the internet
  • Use a network firewall
  • Don’t leave your computer on when you’re not using it

For more in depth information, refer to our article on securing your computers and network.

Know That You’re at Risk!

Many small business owners are familiar with different security threats such as keystroke logging, targeted attacks, and risks that come with using smart phones for company business. Most acknowledge that such attacks where company information is stolen can be very damaging to a businesses.

Yet, most of these business owners don’t feel that they are at risk. The rationale being that cyber-attackers will spend their efforts on larger businesses where the stakes are higher. That’s a dangerous assumption. A data breach could mean financial ruin for a small business.

What you can do:

  1. Educate employees about Internet safety. Write up and circulate security guidelines and internet safety practices. Have passwords changed regularly and protect mobile devices.
  2. Assess your current security status and safeguard company data, know what you need to protect. Understanding your risks and security is important so that you can take steps to protect your information.
  3. Take proactive action and develop a security plan. Your plan should cover password policies, email and web security as well as encryption.

Recommended Free Desktop Software

free software alternativesMany businesses and individuals needlessly spend a lot of money on desktop software. There are many free software alternatives out there that perform as well, or even better, than their non-free alternatives. It’s worthwhile exploring free software options as a way to save cash.

It’s possible that you’ve never heard of the free software alternatives listed below. One reason is that creators of free software usually don’t have the marketing budgets of the Microsofts and Adobes of the world. This doesn’t mean that free software is not functional or less safe than proprietary alternatives. Free software is often safer, especially when it’s open source, because anyone can see the code. More eyeballs on the code means vulnerabilities can be found and fixed more quickly. 

Office Productivity


LibreOffice includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, database and more. It’s free, yet similar in functionality to Microsoft Office. LibreOffice lets you edit and create documents in Microsoft’s formats (.doc, .xls, .ppt etc). Don’t shell out the cash for Microsoft Office licenses unless you’ve evaluated LibreOffice as a free alternative.


If you need desktop publishing software (DTP), take a look at Scribus. It has a lot of features which means you might not need to pay for a program like Adobe InDesign or Microsoft Publisher.

Graphics & Photo Editing


GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) is a graphics editing program to edit and create a wide variety of images, icons, web-page graphics and more. It contains all the features most users need without having to resort to the pricy Adobe Photoshop alternative. While some companies, like professional photography studios, might need the features Photoshop provides, it doesn’t hurt to take a look at GIMP.


If you’re looking for a vector graphics editor, with capabilities similar to Illustrator, CorelDraw, or Xara X, take a look at Inkscape. It’s also free and open source. As described on the Inkscape website: “Inkscape supports many advanced SVG features (markers, clones, alpha blending, etc.) and great care is taken in designing a streamlined interface. It is very easy to edit nodes, perform complex path operations, trace bitmaps and much more.”

Email & Calendar

Thunderbird & Lightening

As an alternative to Microsoft Outlook, check out the free Mozilla Thunderbird mail client with the Lightening calendar addon.

Web Browser

Firefox, Chrome & Opera

While Microsoft Internet Explorer comes bundled with Windows, it really isn’t the safest choice for web browsing. In addition, it tends to lag behind in terms of compatibility with web standards and features. We recommend Firefox, Chrome/Chromium and Opera.



Eclipse is our overall pick for a variety of programming languages. It’s a feature rich, integrated development environment. You can use Eclipse to develop Java applications with plugins to code in C, C++, Perl, PHP, Python as well as many other languages.

Kompozer, Bluefish, & Aptana Studio

If you’re mainly interested in web development, you might prefer a lighter application. Our favorite free web editors are Kompozer, Bluefish and Aptana Studio.

Operating System


Microsoft Windows is currently the most common desktop operating system. It is also the most insecure and vulnerable operating system when compared to Mac OS and Linux. A free and safer alternative would be to use one of a variety of Linux desktop distributions. Linux desktops come in a variety of “flavours”, allowing it to target a wide variety of audiences. Many Linux distributions are extremely user-friendly, and often easier to use and install than MS Windows.

Our favorite desktop Linux options are:

It’s important to note that there will be a learning curve when switching from Windows to Linux, but the curve is no bigger than if you were to switch from Windows to Mac OS. If the Windows software you rely on has Linux alternatives, you should consider Linux as an alternative operating system for at least some of your desktops. The desktop software alternatives listed above have versions for Linux, Mac OS as well as Windows.

Where to Find More Free Software Alternatives

There are many thousands of free software packages out there. Many can be searched for and downloaded from SourceForge boasts over 3 million developers involved in over 300,000 free software projects. On SourceForge you can search for software by keyword or category, and view popularity, user ratings, and recommendations.

Is It Worth Switching?

Adapting to new software does carry costs. The question is, do the long-term financial savings gained from free software justify the short-term switching costs? The answer is sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Let’s use an example. If you have a MS Excel power user on hand whose productivity would be stifled by switching to the LibreOffice Calc alternative, then it’s best to pay for an Excel license. The added productivity will make up for the cost of the license. If the user is new to spreadsheets or is more or less indifferent, then LibreOffice Calc is a good choice.

Is your favorite free program not listed here? Let us know about it!


Create an Effective Business Website

build effective websiteA strong web presence can give your company a competitive advantage. An effective website is a key ingredient in building the powerful web presence you want.

What constitutes an effective business website depends to a considerable extent on your audience. We can however, outline some general principles that apply to most sites.

Set Your Website Goals

Decide beforehand what you want your website to accomplish. Will it be used to sell products online, inform visitors, or generate leads? Make sure your website fits into your business and marketing goals so that you can maximize the effect of the resources you put into your website.

Try to think about what you’d like your website to accomplish in the longer term as well. This will help you decide on the technologies to use that best fit with your website objectives. For example, you’d like non-technical staff to be able to update the site, you would probably need to use a CMS (content management system).

Know Your Audience & Keep it Relevant

Remember, people will visit your website because they want something. Visitors ask themselves “what’s in it for me?” before clicking links, and only visit pages they think will be worthwhile to them. Time is precious and there are many websites out there competing for your audience’s time. Keep in mind what your visitors want, it will go a long way to help you create relevant content for your website.

For example, if you have an interesting company history, don’t hesitate to include it. However, make sure you put it in a section users expect, like an “about us” page. Don’t give into the temptation to add cool information about your company on pages where visitors are looking for other content.

Make Navigation Easy

Have navigation menus laid out in a logical way. Ideally, a visitor should be able to go to any page on your site from any other page. Make sure you have a “home” link so that users can get back to your main page if they get “lost”.

Having a site map is a good idea. It gives your visitors a page where they can access all of the other pages that make up your site. Another benefit is that search engines love them because it helps them index your site.

Use Visual Cues

Humans are visual creatures, use visual icons and images to guide users around your site. Avoid long blocks of text that are hard to read, break them up with headings and interesting images. Text only links are fine in navigation menus but images are better on pages where you want to grab your visitor’s attention. Just make sure you don’t over do it. Too many images will clutter up a webpage.

Make it Easy to Contact You

Don’t make people search for a way to get in touch with you. Make it easy. If you’re selling goods online, you should let your visitors know how to reach you on every page. For example, include your phone number on your page header and/or footer.

No Bugs & No “Under Construction”

Make sure there are no broken links and that there is no buggy behavior on your website. Users do not visit your site in hopes of testing it. Make sure they have a smooth ride.

If you have an area that is under construction, avoid linking to it and then having an empty page with an “under construction” notice. It’s a waste of user time. If linking to a section being built is unavoidable, at least, put some kind of description of what is to come.

Make the Visit Enjoyable

Consider including things like free information or videos that are of benefit to your visitors. People like to laugh, so why not use humour where appropriate? Interesting, useful and amusing content will encourage repeat visits and help differentiate you from your competitors.

Web Design Mistakes to Avoid

Not respecting accepted usability practices

Designers often want to use their skills to produce websites that are veritable works of art. Unfortunately, that well-intentioned exuberance often comes at the expense of functionality which is not a good thing for most business sites. This doesn’t mean your site has to lack creativity or be boring. Nevertheless, there are certain features that visitors expect when they arrive at your website. You could say these features have become a kind of “website standard”:

  • Clickable logo on the top-left of the page that links to the website’s home page
  • Horizontal navigation bar near the top of home page
  • Dark text on a light background for your content, especially if you expect your users to read for any significant length of time. Have you ever seen a news site with a black background and red text? Of course not, and for good reason!
  • Vertical scrolling so that users scroll pages up and down, not side to side


E-Commerce Overview

E-commerce is a truly revolutionary innovation. But what is it exactly, and what are its benefits? This article answers these questions and will give you an idea about how you can use this vital tool to help your business and customers.

What is E-commerce?

E-commerce describes using computer networks (often the Internet) to buy and sell products and services. Basically it means transacting online. Some people find this definition narrow and prefer the term e-business instead. We’ll use the term “e-commerce” to mean a broader definition which includes servicing customers, collaborating with business partners as well as transacting within the organization.

Some organizations can be called pure e-commerce organizations, in that all processes are digital. The products are digital (such as e-books), product delivery is digital, and the selling process is digital. At the other end of the spectrum, purely physical organizations use no digital dimensions and are called brick-and-mortar organizations. Many organizations fit somewhere in between and can be called partial e-comerce organizations. is a good example of a partial e-commerce organization. It sells physical goods but uses digital means for activities like customer service and order processing.

You might also hear the term click-and-mortar (or click-and-brick) organization. This refers to companies like Walmart, whose primary business is done in the physical world, but gradually expand their e-commerce activities.

Types of E-Commerce Transactions

E-commerce transactions can happen between various parties, not just between a business and its retail customers. The most common terms you’ll come across that describe the types of e-commerce transactions include:

  1. Business-to-business (B2B): Both the seller and the buyer is a business. Most e-commerce volume is B2B.
  2. Business-to-Consumer (B2C): The sellers are organizations and the buyers are individuals.
  3. Consumer-to-Consumer (C2C): Both the seller and buyer is an individual.

What’s the whole point of E-Commerce?

Most companies provide products and/or services to customers. To do so, the company has to buy inputs like parts or materials and/or services from suppliers, process the inputs, and then sell the final products to customers.

The main idea of e-commerce is to automate as many business processes as possible. By “processes” we mean things like order initiation, order fulfillment, buying, product delivery and customer support. The aim is to benefit both the seller and customer.

Benefits and Limitations of E-Commerce

As far as recent human innovations go, the benefits of e-commerce on businesses, individuals and society is no doubt towards the top of the list. On the other hand, e-commerce does have its limitations. As time passes, we expect these limitations to decrease, or to be overcome. We’ll quickly outline some of the main benefits and limitations of e-commerce on businesses and individuals.

Benefits of E-commerce

To Companies:

  • Expands an organization’s potential customer base by reaching customers in new markets in a cost-effective way.
  • Allows companies to buy materials and services from other organizations at less cost and more quickly.
  • Helps shorten or eliminate distribution channels allowing for lower prices and higher vendor profits.
  • The cost of creating and selling products that can be digitized (such as music and software) can be reduced by up to 90%.
  • Allows for lower costs in areas like telecommunication and inventory.
  • Helps smaller companies to compete with the big guys.

To Consumers:

  • Often provides less expensive products and services by allowing consumers to compare product prices more easily.
  • Gives consumers more product choice.
  • Enables convenient 24/7 shopping without the need to travel outside the home.
  • Customers can quickly retrieve detailed product information.
  • Enables customers to get customized products quickly and at competitive prices (computers, cars, etc.).
  • Makes it possible to work and study at home.
  • Allows for individuals to more easily sell to other individuals using classified and auction websites.
  • Allows consumers to interact in online communities to exchange ideas and compare experiences.

E-Commerce Limitations

  • There is currently a lack of universally accepted standards for quality, security and reliability.
  • Costly or inconvenient Internet accessibility for some potential customers.
  • Lack of national and international government regulations and standards.
  • Difficult to find accurate methodologies for measuring the benefits of e-commerce and for justifying its costs..
  • Perception that e-commerce is expensive and not secure.


Entire books on e-commerce have been written with far too many concepts for us to include here. Nevertheless, with this brief introduction to e-commerce, we hope you’ve gained a better understanding of what it’s all about and how you might use it to help your business and customers.


Basic World Wide Web Concepts

If you’re reading this, then the World Wide Web has probably become a part of your daily life. The Web is an increasingly important tool companies use to reach customers and other stakeholders. This trend is sure to continue into the foreseeable future. To help with decision-making on Web related matters, it’s a good idea for managers and business owners to have, at least a basic understanding, of what the Web is and how it works.

What is the World Wide Web?

World Wide Web diagramEssentially, the World Wide Web (WWW) is made up of a lot of interconnected computers (via phone lines, cables, or satellites). Some of these computers are designed to serve out webpages. These computers are called web servers, which are usually running 24/7. Other computers, like the one you are using to read this text, are called clients. Client computers make requests to server computers, like asking for a web page and its associated graphics. The server computer responds by feeding (or serving) the web page data back to the client.

The Internet is often confused with the World Wide Web. The Internet consists of a wide range of technologies including email, file data transfer, protocols (communications infrastructure) as well as the Web. The World Wide Web is just one component of the Internet.

Web Browsers

Web browsers are computer programs that are installed on client computers to request web page files from server computers. It’s the program you’re using to access this website and read this text. Once a request is made via the browser (by clicking a link or entering a web address in the “address bar”), the web server sever sends the requested data back to the browser. The browser then interprets the data and displays it on the screen.

Popular web browsers include Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Safari, Edge. Each of these browsers differ somewhat in terms of features, but their purpose is the same. They’re all meant to request and present web pages to the user.

“Mobile browsers” are web browsers designed for use on a mobile devices like PDAs and cell phones.


A website is made up of a collection of files sitting on a web server. These files usually include:

  • Image and/or video files
  • Text files that tell the web browser how to layout the page and what text to include
  • Script files (small programs) that add functionality or effects to the webpage

Website Hosting

The files that make up your website have to be put somewhere that people can access. This somewhere is a computer running web server software.  The server takes incoming user requests and returns your website files to their browser. Web hosts are companies that rent space on their servers for you to store your website files on. The web host takes care of the necessary computer hardware, software and connections.

Website Address

website address barLets say you have a website, how can people reach it? One answer is, by entering your website address (or “URL” in nerd-speak) into your browser’s address bar. A website has to have a unique address so that it can be found. Just as real world home addresses are unique to avoid confusion, website addresses have to be unique also.

How do you get a unique address? By registering a domain name. Examples of domain names are “” and “”. Our domain name is “”. The domain name is mapped to the server that stores the files that makes up this website.

An organization named ICANN coordinates these domain names across the world. This is necessary so that when you type an address into your browser, you reach the website you were looking for.


The main ideas to understand are that:

  • The World Wide Web is nothing more than a large number of interconnected client and server computers
  • Websites are accessed by client computers via the web browser
  • Each website has a unique addresse determined by its domain name
  • Website files are stored on server computers that wait for requests from client computers

We have deliberately not gone into great technical detail here. Nevertheless, this article should give you a basic understanding of how the World Wide Web works and what’s required to have a website.