The openness of the Internet has dramatically transformed global communications, making it possible for people around the world to easily exchange information. But the very same openness also creates an enormous problem. Anyone can access the network, yet not everyone has good intentions. Some engage in malicious mischief by unleashing destructive software, while others view hacking computer networks as a sport. Then there are people with criminal intent.
To avoid becoming a victim of misguided pranksters or cyber criminals, take the time to examine the security of your personal data. Here are some recommendations, along with links to more detailed information:
A 2009 study by Consumer Reports estimates the cost of cybercrime to U.S. consumers at $8 billion.
1. Use anti-virus software.
Viruses spread rapidly and can damage or destroy your computer. New ones appear daily. It's critical that you install and update anti-virus software regularly. Use the program to scan all the files on your system once a week, deleting the infected ones.
2. Be wary of e-mail attachments.
A virus can hide in an attachment. Opening it unleashes the virus. Don't open an attachment from anyone you don't know. Even if you do know the sender, an infected attachment may have been surreptitiously sent from an infected machine. The safest thing to do is to scan the attachment with anti-virus software before you open it and to only ever open attachments you expect to see attached to the email.
3. Install a firewall on your computer.
A firewall is a software program that blocks unauthorized access to your computer. Most modern operating systems, including all versions of Windows starting with XP and Apple OS X, have built-in firewalls. Make sure they're activated if you use those operating systems. If not, try ZoneAlarm. You can download it for free for personal use from ZoneAlarm.
4. Protect your passwords.
Many online services, such as banking, brokerage, and e-mail require the use of passwords. A secure password is the first line of defense against cyber snoops. Use a different password for each account, don't divulge them to anyone and change them periodically.
5. Keep your browser and operating system updated.
You've probably read about security “holes” that turn up periodically. Once they're discovered, you can download fixes. Modern operating systems and browsers are all capable of downloading and installing patches automatically as soon as they are released. Make sure you have this feature enabled.
6. Back up your data.
Make copies of your files in case they become corrupted, your system fails or your computer is damaged or stolen. Get in the habit of doing this regularly, at least once a week. Better yet, set your system to automatically back up your files.Learn more.
7. Log off when you're done for the day.
You are most vulnerable when connected to the Internet. If there isn't a good reason to remain online, disconnect from the network, especially if you'll be gone for an extended period of time.
Follow these tips to enhance your personal security and the health of your PC.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if I'm using a public PC? Are there additional steps I should take?
When you use a public PC you should limit your browsing of password-protected sites as much as possible. If you must access a password-protected account, your goal should be to leave no trace of your activity on the PC. In order to do this, right click on the browser icon and open the browser using a setting called Private Browsing or Incognito Mode. This will prevent the browser from storing information about your activity. In addition, go ahead and delete the history and temporary Internet files including all cookies before you log off. Check out this article for more tips on staying safe on a public PC.
Will following these tips keep me safe when shopping online?
The tips in this article are intended to keep your computer safe and secure. However, staying safe while shopping online is an entirely different topic that deserves its own coverage. We have other resources at Learn the Net that can help you get a handle on staying safe while shopping online including this series of articles that dives deep into this important topic.