Online Poker: How not to get cleaned out

How to protect yourself when gambling online from the potential pitfalls of hackers, scammers and shady or illegitimate sites.

Over the last five years online poker has been booming. Ever since Chris Moneymaker took out the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event proving anyone can win big, interest in the game has grown at an exponential rate and with the proliferation of poker programs on television this doesn't look to be slowing down any time soon.

As a result of this, hundreds of online casinos have emerged, allowing users to play poker and other games from the comfort of home. Online casinos offer a convenient and easy way to pursue your new-found hobby; however, it can also be dangerous if the right precautions aren't taken. So before you are dealt your first hand, we'll show you how to protect yourself when gambling online from the potential pitfalls of hackers, scammers and shady or illegitimate sites.

Secure your hand

A lot of the basic precautions are the same ones you should take if you are on the Internet and perform any kind of online transaction, such as shopping or banking. There are a host of viruses, keyloggers, Trojan horses and other malicious agents online that can potentially give people access to your details. This is particularly important to online poker players, who may have significant amounts of money in an online poker account.

The first step is to secure your PC and install antivirus software. There are a lot of good security options available, ranging in price from freeware applications to packages costing several hundred dollars. We recommend a program such as AVG or NOD32, but do some reading of reviews and find a package that suits you. It is also important to continually update the virus definitions when prompted by the software as new viruses and threats appear daily.

You should also use a firewall. A router with a built in hardware firewall is ideal as it provides the most comprehensive PC protection, but a software solution such as the one from ZoneAlarm Pro is also a viable option.

This protection should also be backed up by using an anti-spyware application such as Lavasoft's Adaware . By employing three types of security on your PC, you will greatly minimise the chance of viruses or keyloggers finding their way on to your system.

It is also important just to be smart when it comes to downloading any software from the Internet. The aforementioned security measures are great, but they may not catch everything. Downloading illegal copies of programs or visiting suspicious looking Web sites may put your whole PC at risk, as these types of sites are known to be a source of viruses and Trojan horses.

You should also make sure you have a legitimate copy of your operating system and that you keep it up-to-date with security patches. Exploits and loopholes are regularly found that may compromise the integrity of your PC.

Raising the security stakes

Despite having complete and updated software protection, there are still other ways for people to get your information when playing poker online. One of the most common mistakes people make is playing the game online using an unsecured wireless network.

Typically, any wireless Internet is going to be less secure than an Ethernet connection as it is more susceptible to people tapping in to the signal. However, many users may not realise that the wireless connections often used in public places like cafes or hotels offer basically no protection at all. This means anyone with a bit of know-how can listen in on your session and potentially gain access to your details.

We'd recommend sticking with your own personal connection when deciding to play poker online – as opposed to at wireless hotspots – and research to make sure your Internet connection is as secure as possible.

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