Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Daniel J. Lohrmann's new book, Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web, (Brazos Press, 2008). 

A student downloads and submits someone else’s work as her own research paper. A man watches Internet pornography on his work laptop while on a business trip. A young girl pretends to be someone else online, attracting the attention of a middle-aged man pretending to be a cute teen guy. Each one will face serious consequences.

Most people take steps to protect themselves against identity theft online. But there’s an even more dangerous online threat: integrity theft. People who don’t guard against the many temptations the Internet presents can easily find themselves stripped of their integrity and compromising their faith.

The solution? Making sure that the values you live by offline guide the way you surf online. Here’s how you can surf your values:

Realize what’s at stake. The decisions you make online aren’t just casual ones; what you do online affects every part of your life. If you act in unproductive, harmful, or immoral ways online, doing so will compromise your character, your relationships, your job, and every other part of your life – including your faith.

Match your online life with your offline life. Don’t do anything online that you wouldn’t do offline. Eventually your online behavior will transform your sense of right and wrong and spill over into all aspects of your life. If you wouldn’t say a particular thing to someone face to face, avoid typing it in an e-mail or instant message. If you wouldn’t visit a strip club in real life, don’t visit a pornographic website. Remember that, even if you’re playing an avatar in a virtual online world, you’re still you. So be yourself. Decide what you will do before you go online, and do what you’ve said once you’re connected. Think before you click. Consider the full impact of what may happen before you click on any new page on the Internet. Ask yourself: “Am I being a hypocrite by clicking?”

Secure your computer – and yourself. Install antivirus and filtering software to protect your computer from a wide range of common risks. But realize that, even with the best technology, you’re not immune to encountering dangerous websites. Keep in mind that even the best filters can’t block all harmful sites. And if you or others in your household are tempted to visit sites your filter does block, it’s not hard to bypass the filter, turn it off, or use another computer without a filter. Focus on training yourself – not just your computer – to avoid harm online. Regularly conduct an online risk assessment for yourself and your family, and implement security and privacy checklists recommended as best practices by experts. You can find such lists at places like: www.onguardline.gov/, www.staysafeonline.org/, and www.netsmartz.org/index.htm.

Don’t be fooled. Huge amounts of information are coming at you constantly online, and some of it is from people who may not be truthful or have the best intentions. Beware of the cheating that occurs online, from people plagiarizing others’ resumes and obtaining fake academic degrees from online “universities,” to illegally copying digital music, photos, e-books, and other copyrighted content. Understand that individuals may be lying about their names, ages, and location when communicating online, and that businesses may be misrepresenting the facts about products they sell through their websites. Pray for the discernment you need when evaluating the information you get online. Check sources and references.