Follow these ten tips to avoid the most common security issues. These tips may not make your computer impervious, but they will certainly go a long way to keep you from easily prevented security problems and save you a lot of time in the long run.
1. Stay up-to-date.
The most common way to compromise a PC with a virus, Trojan, or other malware is to attack software vulnerabilities in Windows and your applications (software like word processors, PDF readers, or games). Keeping your software up-to-date is essential to keeping your computer secure. Set up Windows and your applications to patch automatically, whenever possible. Do not ignore warnings to update your computer.
2. Enable Windows security settings.
Each version of Microsoft Windows comes with security settings that you can configure. Review the settings in your version of Windows and always opt for the more secure options first. You can always make exceptions when something is not working, but start most secure first.
3. Use a network firewall.
Although most current versions of Windows include a firewall and many antivirus products include one as well, you should always use a network-based firewall. If you do not use a network firewall, your computer may be directly accessible from the Internet by a lot of bad actors. Consider a device like the Cisco-Linksys WRT54G2 Wireless-G Broadband Router, which includes a firewall, wireless access point, and easy-to-configure security settings. As always, start with the most secure settings, and turn security features off only if they prevent you from working.
4. Use antivirus software.
You might expect this to be first, but antivirus software alone will not keep your computer safe. All of these security tips, taken together, are important to prevent viruses and other malware from infecting your computer. Check out the Antivirus Software Guide for tips on which software will best meet your needs.
5. Run full scans periodically.
Once you install antivirus software, you need to keep it up-to-date and run full scans periodically. Most antivirus software will automatically check for updates and run full scans on a scheduled basis. Make sure yours is configured this way. In addition, it helps to run a full scan using the Malicious Software Removal Tool from Microsoft. This is updated every month when Microsoft releases updates.
6. Use secure wireless.
Whenever you use wireless network connections, make sure you are using encryption. This will help keep your information from prying eyes. There are easy ways to collect your private information on unencrypted network connections. Look for encrypted networks that use WPA, and avoid unencrypted networks or networks that only use WEP. If your computer warns you about connecting to an insecure network, take the warning seriously and find a more secure connection.
7. Use strong passwords.
Passwords are meant to ensure that only those who are supposed to use your computer actually use it. If you have blank passwords or easy to guess passwords, you are laying down a welcome mat for attackers. Ensure that your computer has a unique login for each user and that each user has a password that is long and too complicated to guess. Password managers are a great way to create and maintain strong passwords.
8. Don’t open untrusted email.
One of the most popular ways that attackers use to get into your computer is email. When you receive email from someone over the Internet, you need to be suspicious. Watch out for warning signs that the email might not be legitimate. Official business is seldom communicated out of the blue via email. When in doubt, verify that the email is legitimate with the sender before clicking on links or opening attachments. Some antivirus software scans your email to make sure it is not malicious, but use good judgment – software will not catch every malicious email.
9. Be careful what web sites you visit.
The web sites you visit have a direct effect on the security of your computer. If you are not sure of the security of a web site, don’t visit it. Know the location (URL) of the web sites you visit regularly, and make sure the location matches what you expect. It is easy to create official looking web sites. The domain name is your best assurance that you are working with the legitimate owner of the web site. Watch out for suspicious looking URLs and stay away.
10. Be careful about installing downloads and plug-ins.
If someone wants to exploit you by stealing your personal information or using your computer as a botnet zombie, an important step is to install software on your computer that will allow them to access the information or use the computer as they please. If you install software that you downloaded from the web, you may have invited the bad guys into your computer. A Trojan horse may cause you all sorts of computer security problems.
The one thing that is common to each of these tips is “you”. Exercise good judgment when using a computer connected to the Internet. Cyber attackers rely on people as the weakest link in computer security. Stay informed, and follow these tips to keep your computer and your personal information secure.