10 Ways to Keep Your Computer Safe

  • Sep 18, 2009
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computer_attacked

It surprises me how many users don't take computer security seriously.

With hackers, spammers, and viruses lurking around every corner, you can't afford not to follow some basic steps in protecting your PC and your personal information.

Here are the 10 ways to keep your computer safe.

1. Update your OS
2. Install anti-virus and update
3. Use anti-spyware/adware
4. Secure your home network
5. Use a firewall
6. Don't use IE
7. Watch out for email attachments
8. OpenDNS
9. Be careful with dangerous websites
10. Keep your personal information safe

1. Update Your Operating System (Windows Update)

The first thing you should do, after getting a new PC or reformatting, is to run Windows Update.

In my household, I have 4 computers running Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7, Ubuntu 9.04, Xubuntu 9.04. Some dual-boot while one triple-boots etc.

Whichever operating system you are using, make sure to update them frequently. Especially if you're running Windows, I recommend that you turn on the auto-update in 'Windows Update' if not already done so. Microsoft releases frequent vulnerability and security fixes.

Keeping your operating system up to date is the first step in keeping your computer safe. To check if you're covered (in Windows), open up your control panel and click on Windows Update. If you see the automatic update option selected, you're all set. If not, either choose the full auto update or the option that gives you the chance to choose which updates to install yourself. Just don't turn it off. If you must turn it off for whatever reason, manually check the Windows Update website at least once a week.

Recommended: Try out Ubuntu, the most popular Linux distro. Using a Linux OS may sound too nerdy for some, but the level of user-friendliness has gotten a lot better over the years. It has all the pretty GUI, too. And, if you're having problems, a huge online community is waiting to help you. It's FREE and SAFE.

2. Install Anti-Virus and Keep the Virus Definitions Up-to-Date

An anti-virus software is a MUST. If you don't have one, you are almost guaranteed to get infected; it's only a matter of time.

It is amazing how many people don't have an updated anti-virus running on their computers. Especially if you bought a pre-assembled PC from Dell or HP or Acer etc., your computer may come with a free trial period of 30 days to 1 year. Be mindful of this when you purchase a new PC.

When your subscription period runs out, you will need to either pay to continue using the anti-virus you currently have or get a different anti-virus software. Shop around.

Recommended: There are tons of options out there. But Avast and AVG are two of the best. Why? Because they're free and very effective. Now, if you want more features and protection, you can move up to a paid anti-virus software. I know Symantec and Mcafee are two of the dominant players, but I don't recommend them as they take more resources to run and there are others with better detection rates. Full list of recommended antivirus

3. Anti-Spyware / Adware

Many times when a PC user complains about a sluggish computer or a slow startup, it is due to a presence of ad/spyware. Most common ones are mostly cookies from your browser as you surf the web and are not very dangerous, while some spywares are very malicious in nature. One example is a key-logger that can log your key strokes to steal your credit card numbers and passwords.

There are also adwares that hijack your browser's homepage to display their content every time you load up your browser and toolbars that won't go away.

These days, a lot of anti-virus softwares are able to protect your PC from spy/ad-wares, too. But if you want to be extra safe, install a couple of anti-spyware programs that will more aggressively block various malwares.

Recommended: Free: Spyware Blaster, Windows Defender, SuperAntiSpyware

You can get started with just a couple of those. If you have Windows Vista or 7, you will have Windows Defender by default. So, you might as well use it. I recommend Spyware Blaster in all cases. You simply run it, update, and protect. It doesn't need to run in the background. It adds black lists to your browsers, and provides an effective prevention. SuperAntiSpyware is a complete suite with real-time protection.

4. Secure Your Home Network

In today's typical household, multiple computers share a single internet connection. Usually, a router is used to share that connection.

What many people forget is that router is not only an internet sharing device, but a firewall to protect your whole network as well.

Setting up your router's firewall is the first thing you need to do when setting up a network. Make sure that the firewall feature is turned on in the router settings.

What's more concerning is that, with the gaining popularity of wireless (WiFi) networks, people are leaving the door wide open to potential hackers and your neighbors (who's accessing your wireless network right now). You need to protect your computers not just from threats on the internet but also from threats close to your house.

If you have a wireless network enabled in your router, please look at your security settings. If you've never touched it, it is very likely that your neighbors had a peek inside your network a few times.

Set it up so that you are using WPA or (preferably WPA2 if supported) with AES encryption (or TKIP if your device doesn't support AES). WEP is no good. It can be cracked within a couple of minutes. Even WPA is not all that safe these days, but you might not have the option to use WPA2.Create a shared key (password) that's impossible to guess.

My key is 60+ characters long with numbers and lower/upper case letters randomly generated by the router.

5. Use a Firewall

A firewall prevents intruders from getting in. If you have a router, you already have a firewall. Just confirm that it is up and running. A software firewall can increase the level of security, and especially if you don't have a router, you need a software firewall. Windows has a built-in firewall, and should be enabled by default. There are other popular firewalls like Zone Alarm.

What I'd recommend, if you want to keep things simple, is to use a security suite that has both anti-virus and firewall included. Full list of recommended firewall

6. Try Something Other than Internet Explorer

If you are still using Internet Explorer as your main browser, you really need to switch. IE is the most vulnerable and is also the least efficient browser on the market.

Browsers such as Firefox, Opera, and Chrome are much faster and safer. At the moment, Firefox is the most popular alternative. But I encourage you to try out all the browsers and see which one you like the best.

I highly recommend Opera. Opera is faster than Firefox. It has built-in email client, bittorrent client, widgets, mouse gestures and more. Opera has all these features built-in, yet, it is smaller than Firefox. With the new release of Opera 10 with Turbo (speeds up browsing for slower connections), I predict it will gain more market share. I personally use Firefox, Opera, and IE. Firefox is my main browser; Opera is number two. IE is only used when testing website changes and visiting Korean websites. Lots of Korean websites are only compatible with IE, which I really hate.

7. Careful Opening Email Attachments

Even if you receive an email from one of your friends, don't assume it's safe to open file attachments. Some viruses take control of a person's email account and sends viruses to all his contacts.

If an email is from a stranger, most likely the attachment is a virus. Having an anti-virus should protect you from email threats, but still be careful.

Now, if you experience harm because you had replied to a Nigerian email saying you won a $10 million lottery, there's nothing that can help for you other than your common sense.

8. Try OpenDNS

OpenDNS is a free DNS service that can help your browsing experience to be faster and safer. DNS (Domain Name System) "translates domain names meaningful to humans into the numerical (binary) identifiers associated with networking equipment for the purpose of locating and addressing these devices worldwide.

An often used analogy to explain the Domain Name System is that it serves as the "phone book" for the Internet by translating human-friendly computer hostnames into IP addresses. For example, www.example.com translates to 208.77.188.166." - Wikipedia

OpenDNS keeps track of and blocks harmful websites and also has a parental control feature and more.

All you have to do is put these two numbers "208.67.222.222", "208.67.220.220" into your router settings or your computer's network settings.

Instructions for various routers and computers are available on the website.

9. Be Careful about Which Sites You Visit

If you got OpenDNS all set up, you can worry about this a little less. But OpenDNS cannot protect you 100% as news malicious sites keep on popping up.

Warez, crack, and adult sites are the most dangerous categories of websites. Don't visit them unless you know it's safe.

Again, an anti-virus will protect you from this kind of threats as well. See how important an anti-virus is?

10. Keep Your Personal Information Safe

Many of these threats are aimed at getting your personal information. So, keep them safe!

Don't easily give away your name, email, phone, and address to any website.

Don't store credit card and other sensitive information on your computer. Sometimes, you have to store them on your computer. If so, don't save an Excel file with your credit card numbers as "credit card numbers.xls" and put it in a shared folder.

Your neighbor who was sharing your internet connection might be tempted. Playing with files will be of little help. You should encrypt your files with a password, too, if it stores sensitive information.

Overall, be mindful of protecting your personal data.

I hope you learned some ways to protect your computer and your personal data. Web is a dangerous place. You must always be on the lookout and have protection. Click here fore the full article with all the recommended software.

Kevin

Scam Free Internet - News, alerts, and tech tips on avoiding internet scams and rip-offs.

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