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Securing Your Computer System

Today, more and more people are using their computers for everything from communication to online banking, and investing to shopping. As we do these things on a more regular basis, we open ourselves up to potential hackers, attackers and crackers.

Some might be targeting you for identity theft, while others may use your computer to launch attacks on other victims.

Here are 12 simple steps to securing your computer, that won't hit you hard in the pocketbook.

1. Make a backup copy of information that is important to you, and keep it separate from your computer.

2. Update and patch your operating system, web browser and software frequently.

3. Make sure a firewall is installed on your computer; this is very important. A good firewall can prevent Trojans, worms, malware, adware, and viruses from accessing your computer via the internet. Research the advantages and disadvantages of software and hardware firewalls, and make an educated decision about what fits your situation best.

4. Review your browser and email settings for optimum security. Why should you do this? Active-X and JavaScript are often used by hackers to plant malicious programs into your computers. While cookies are relatively harmless in terms of security concerns, they do still track your movements on the Internet to build a profile of you. At a minimum set your security setting for the "internet zone" to High, and your "trusted sites zone" to Medium Low.

5. Make sure you have antivirus software installed and that it is set to receive automatic updates. Automatic updates insure you are protected from the latest viruses.

6. Do not open unknown email attachments. It is simply not enough that you may recognize the address from which it originates because many viruses can spread from a familiar address.

7. If you don't know where a program comes from, don't run it. Another word of advice is to avoid sending programs like this to your colleagues and friends, even though the content might be entertaining. There might be a Trojan horse that wants to infect your computer, and theirs.

8. Disable hidden filename extensions. By default, the Windows operating system is set to "hide file extensions for known file types". Disable this option so that file extensions display in Windows. Some file extensions will, by default, continue to remain hidden, but you are more likely to see any unusual file extensions that do not belong.

9. When you are not using it, you should sign off the network and turn the computer off. When you disconnect from the network and turn your computer off, a hacker will have no way to harm your computer.

10. Consider making a boot disk on a floppy disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised by a malicious program. Obviously, you need to take this step before you experience a hostile breach of your system.

11. You should never allow access to your computer by anyone, unless you okay them to use it first. Letting other people use your computer can result in a breach of your computer's security, so beware if you keep personal information on your computer, and then let family members or coworkers use it. They may accidentally compromise the security of your system.

12. Don't use weak passwords. Use passwords which are difficult for someone to figure out. People frequently use the names of children, pets, anniversary dates, or birthdays. Because there seems to be a password needed for everything, it is not uncommon to see many people using the same password for everything. Big mistake! The use of only one password provides a hacker with easy access to a smorgasbord of personal information. If you have to write your passwords down, it is best not to leave them on a post-it, attached to the screen of your computer. You may chuckle at the absurdity, but it happens more than you think.

Jason Mann is editor of the Technology Basics Section at i-KnowHow | Information for Life, where you'll also find ideas and tips for hobbies, home and garden, personal finance, family and much more.






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