Computer Security: 5 things you should know.

Run antivirus and anti-spyware programs on all computers.

  • You should run an antivirus software suite that contains protection from spyware programs.  These programs are available from several well known companies such as; McAfee, Symantec, or Trend Micro.  Having one of these programs however isn’t enough; you must setup and verify the automatic updating of these programs.  Antivirus programs must update their DAT files so they can protect against new virus threats and should automatically check for updates on a daily basis at minimum.  Don’t just assume its working – check on it and verify its updating on a weekly basis.

Be leery of all software downloads.

  • Often “free” software programs available on the internet contain various forms of spyware/malware.  In fact a whole new classification of software now exists called crimeware.  These crimeware programs are often embedded in games and can be nearly impossible to detect.  Their purpose is to steal your personal information, surfing habits, passwords, financial account information, etc.
  • Know what you are downloading and why.  Read the licensing agreements, often the agreements will reference some type of data collection.  Make sure the software you are installing comes from a reputable company.
  • Avoid using your computer with administrative privileges.  It’s best to setup individual users with limited permissions when possible.  Limited permissions help protect a computer from viruses and other spyware/malware threats by denying the necessary permissions they require to install correctly.

Never respond to any email request for personal or account information.

  • You should never respond to any email requests asking for personal or account information of any type; this includes requests from your bank, eBay, PayPal, etc.  These types of request are known as phishing scams.  Phishing scams are designed to look as if they came from a legitimate company.  Many are professionally designed by accomplished programmers.  For the average computer user it’s nearly impossible to distinguish real requests from phising scams.  As a result, most companies have adopted policies again soliciting this type of information via email.  If you are in doubt – STOP and call the company directly, by looking up their phone number – DO NOT use any contact information contained within the suspect email.

Think of passwords as you do your Social Security Number.

  • You should think of your passwords as personal information – keep them secret.  Passwords are often the gateway to your personal information.
  • Use good passwords made-up of letters and numbers.  Passwords should not contain words that can be found in a dictionary or any proper names.

Be aware of your environment.

  • When handling sensitive information personal or corporate be aware of your surroundings.  Is anyone looking over your shoulder?  While this sounds obvious, many phone cards are stolen while being used in airports.
  • Avoid using “public” computers to access sensitive information.  Computers often store or cache information – site links, usernames and passwords are often captured and stored as a convenience.  Public computers may also have keyloggers installed.  Keyloggers are programs designed to capture and log all key strokes typed on the computer; account numbers, passwords, emails – absolutely everything.
  • Shred all personal information before putting in the trash.  All information, even if you believe its harmless.  “Dumpster diving” is the easiest and has become the number one way of stealing ones identity.

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