Keep Your Computer Safe With These 5 Tips
Computers and the internet have become an integral part of our daily lives. We use them to do everything from paying our bills to keeping up with friends and family, to the extent that most of us would be hard pressed to imagine how people ever got through their day without using a computer.
But with this rise in usage comes an equal rise in potential risks, as cyberspace is full of unethical people who would seek to compromise your computer for various reasons. Some hackers enlist the systems they compromise into what’s known as a “BotNet”, or a group of computers secretly controlled by the hacker and used to attack bigger, juicier targets like government networks. Some seek to obtain your personal information for the purposes of identity theft. And some are just acting out of malicious boredom – compromising your computer just because they can.
Whatever the motivation for a cyber attack, falling victim to one can make your computer nearly unusable, not to mention opening you to serious financial risk in the case of identity theft. Thankfully, there are a few key steps you can take to ensure that your system isn’t a prime target for hackers.
1. Operating System Updates
One of the most common ways that hackers compromise your computer is through the use of known “exploits”, or vulnerabilities in your system. The dark corners of the internet are full of message boards where hackers share their knowledge of these vulnerabilities, and the methods used to take advantage of them.
The best way to protect your computer from exploits is to ensure that you have the latest updates and security fixes. Updates are easily available through the update feature on your computer, and you can even set the updates to be installed automatically.
2. Quality Antivirus Protection
This may seem obvious, but a staggering number of computers are brought in for maintenance, only to have the technician discover that there was no effective virus protection installed. Avoid products like Norton 360 that claim to provide some sort of comprehensive system protection. These products are generally bloated and inefficient, and will negatively impact your system’s performance, as well as providing substandard virus protection. You want your antivirus software to do one thing and do it well.
Microsoft Security Essentials is a highly effective antivirus program, and it’s freely available for download. It doesn’t use up your system’s resources and will provide solid protection from mal-ware.
3. Personal Firewall Software
While Windows provides a built-in firewall, it is not exactly known for keeping hackers at bay. Personal firewall software, such as Zonelabs’ Zone Alarm 2.1, will add an important layer of protection, and prevent hackers from being able to maliciously access your system through open ports. And if your computer becomes a target, a good personal firewall will alert you to the attacks, allowing you to take extra steps to protect your system.
For the extra-security conscious, hardware-based firewalls can be purchased and placed between your computer and your internet connection. While this can be viewed as overkill in many cases, adding a hardware firewall to your setup will virtually eliminate all but the most sophisticated of cyberattacks.
4. Using Strong Passwords
This is one of the most important, and least practiced, ways of making your system and personal information secure from hackers. Passwords protect your email, bank account, and even overall access to your computer, and if a hacker is able to crack one or more of your passwords, all manner of malfeasance can be accomplished.
A simple trick for making your passwords secure and easy to remember is to simply replace ‘a’ with ‘@’, ‘i’ with ‘!’, ‘s’ with ‘$’, and ‘o’ with ‘0’, and then append the purpose of the password at the end. So if you use the word ‘mondays’, your email password becomes ‘m0nd@y$em@!l’, your bank account password becomes ‘m0nd@y$b@nk’, and your computer password becomes ‘m0nd@y$$y$tem’. This way, you have a password that is easy to remember and extremely difficult to guess.
5. Safe Email Practices
Compromising a person’s email, and then using that to spread the infection is one of the most common ways hackers carry out their attacks. People are more likely to open emails and attachments from friends, family, and co-workers, and if you’re compromised, you might not even be aware of the infectious emails being sent to your contacts.
To avoid this, use common sense when checking your email. Don’t open attachments or click on links unless you are 100% sure that they are legitimate, even if it’s from someone you know well. Ensure that your email software is not configured to automatically download and/or open attachments, and turn off automatic display of images embedded in the message.
Implementing these 5 steps will make your computer significantly more secure, allowing you to cruise the information superhighway with peace of mind.
This article was written by author and blogger Arthur Frischman. Arthur covers AntiVirus Software Reviews on StarReviews.com.