Computer security tips
These tips are intended for home users looking for a secure computer experience.
First understand the risks. No computer security is 100% secure, all you can do is reduce the security risks. The less technically knowledgable you are the more probematic it is, so educating yourself on the risks is one step towards being more secure.
Make sure the computer is patched with the latest operating system patches: For Windows users either:
- Enable Windows automatic updates. This is found in the control panel. Setting the check daily and at a time when the computer is switched on.
- Manually check for updates. Microsoft generally release updates on the second Tuesday of every month.
- Use an auto updating service such as Secunia, available to Windows XP service pack 3 and Windows 7 users.
Use a router
Routers act as a firewall to being randomly selected by external sources, so use of a router to access the internet reduces the risk.
Backup your computers data, in case of hardware loss or security breach.
Do use a software firewall where you can selectively block programs you do not recognise. A good example is the sunbelt firewall. It does require some effort to understand what software is being used, this is part of the education experience.
Use a browser with high security. Browserscope.org shows some security information for each browser. At the time of writing Firefox 4 has the highest security score. These change regularly, so check them from time to time. Some browsers are better at certain tasks so you may like to use more then one browser.
Update your browser
Whatever browser you use, keep it up to date with the latest version.
Some of the most exploited software on the internet are plugins that run in a browser. The plugin checker works in all browser. This is a really useful page to check often.
Set your homepage to something clean and advert free. Consider setting Google secure and the plugin checker as your home pages.
Access the internet with a secure connection when possible. Sites with a secure connection start with https, for example https://www.google.com/. Some site have a secure option, one example is facebook, if you use facebook enable it - you can find it via account=>account settings=>account security. Wikipedia also can be run in secure mode.
You most likely use other software on your computer. Keep them all up to date. Some like Adobe reader are common targets for exploits. Do keep it up to date, or use an alternative pdf reader. One way to check most of your other software is to use Secunia.
It seems odd but most computers accumulate software that is not used. Removing such software reduce security risks. Consider also add-ons like browser toolbars
Secure your router
If you have a router you will want to secure it. Change the admin password from something different to the default. There are actually websites that will exploit your router while you surf if you leave it at the factory default password. Switch off wireless if not used, but if you do use wireless enable a connection password with WPA or WPA2 encryption mode. Even if you router is being intentionally used publically set a password, if for example your a coffee shop then some form of password should be set even if it's the shops name.
Be weary of hoax antivirus programs, there are lots and some have hoaxed millions of people. Don't react to a website telling you that you have a virus and you need to install there product. It's a hoax. Use reputable antivirus software, which include: NOD32 from ESET, MSE from Microsoft, Kaspersky 2011 from Kaspersky, McAfee Antivirus from McAfee, Norton from Symantec. Note that unfortunately even with an antivirus products installed computers all to often still get viruses and other unwanted situations.
Check what you install
It may seem obvious but find out about software before you install it. Search for it and see what others say. Check the domain that it's coming from with tools such as Web of trust.
Some tools to test your security with:
Mozilla plugin checker
Shields Up checks for open ports which give access to your computer system
Symantec online security checker
Some java tests
Do not leave your computer connected or on the internet permenantly. So if you computer is switched off when not in use it will be less of a target.
The internet is full of useful educational resources about secuity. Security now is one possibility. In the end you want to know your own limits and if necessary get the appropriate security assistance from professionals.
The privacy of your information is a related to computer security but not the same thing. Privacy will be covered in a seperate article.