Guidelines to protecting your PCWith all the threats roaming around the internet today, precautions have to be taken to protect your computer. We’ve created a guideline to help you protect your PC. Be advised however that the protection of your PC is a continuous process, because what protects your computer today may not protect it tomorrow.
1. Upgrade to the latest version of your Operating systemCurrent Operating Systems are more equipped with dealing with enhanced security measures and are harder for attackers to break into and gain administrator access and install malware. Many of these security features are enabled by default, so you are protected from the get go. Learn about the Windows 7 build in security features here and about Mac OS X Mountain Lion Security features here. Windows XP users should be aware that Microsoft has announced that they will no longer support/patch Windows XP after April 2014.
2. Install the latest software updates/patches from software vendors
Make sure your software is always up to date. Software often has vulnerabilities due to insecure programming, insufficient testing or human errors. To fix these vulnerabilities, patches for those vulnerabilities are released. Windows users should go to Start and click on Windows Update. Make sure to patch your software as soon as possible. Hackers use these vulnerabilities to gain access to your computer! It is also very important to move to newer versions of software, older versions of software are often not supported/patched anymore. And because they have been on the market for a long time criminals have had plenty of time to explore their code and find vulnerabilities to exploit.
3. Install an anti-virus and anti-spyware software
There are many anti-virus solutions available; some are free whereas others require you to buy a yearly license. Whichever solution you choose, be sure to update the virus scanner and run virus scans regularly. It will be beneficial to look for an anti-virus solution that also offers anti-spyware functionalities. If you are going to install a free anti-virus solution, do some research (Google) the solution of your choice and make sure you download it from the vendor’s website. Even though you might be tempted to install more than one anti-virus solution on your computer, this is not recommended because anti-virus software usually conflict with each other and slow down your PC’s performance.
4. Make sure you have a firewall enabled
A firewall is a piece of software that prevents unauthorized entry to your computer. Most current operating systems have their own firewall. Make sure it is turned on. Windows users can go here to learn about their firewall settings. Mac users can go here.
5. Disable AutoPlay
When you insert external media in a Windows machine you are often prompted by the Autoplay screen. This is the AutoPlay feature. This feature is often misused by cyber criminals to infect your computer using external media. Click here to see how to disable this feature in Windows 7/ Windows XP.
6. Always scan USB drives before opening them
USB devices are common place today, but they also carry a big risk of being infected with malware. That is why you must always scan USB device with a virus scanner before you open the files. In “My Computer” you can right-click on the USB drive and select “Scan with…” and select your anti-malware (anti-virus and anti-spyware) program. Some anti-virus software can be configured to automatically scan USB drives when they connect to a computer.
7. Don’t use the “Administrator” account on your PC as the default account.
When a PC is purchased the first account you create is by default the administrator account. Make sure that you create another account for everyday PC usage and only use the Administrator account when installing new software or updates. Follow the steps on how to create user accounts described on these pages for Windows 7 here, Windows XP here and Mac OS X here
8. Create strong passwords, don’t re-use passwords and never share passwords
A password is something that is often difficult to remember, a strong password requires the use of numbers, letters, symbols and capital letters and must be more than 15 characters long (for example 23aB#$cDjas12#@), which often results in combinations that are difficult to remember. However there is a simple trick for creating strong passwords that are easy to remember. First you take a phrase you like for example this quote of Mark Twain “Of all the things I have lost, I miss my mind the most”. Next you take all the first letters of the words of that phrase. Our example would be OattIhlImmmtm. Now this is quite a long password but it is easy to remember. To make this password even stronger we can replace some of the letters with numbers or symbols that resemble them. Our example is now: “0@tt1hL1MMMtm”. It is also very important to not re-use passwords, this means don’t use your yahoo mail account password for your g-mail account. And never re-use the password you use to log on to your business environment outside of the office. Don’t give your passwords to anyone, and if it is absolutely necessary for someone to know your password so he/she can do you a favor, change the password as soon as possible. You can test the strength of your password here.
9. Beware of unsolicited e-mails and never open attachments unless you are certain of their source
Most (financial) institutions do not communicate with their clients via e-mail. So by default you must distrust any e-mail that appears to be from a financial institution. If you have any doubt you can always contact your bank. Never click on links provided in e-mails; these will often take you to a fake website where you can get infected by malware or be asked to give personal information. And if you find yourself on a website that may seem legitimate, but you have your doubts, you can always check the URL. Financial institutions always use https://www… Illegitimate e-mails often contain grammar and spelling errors and have an unpolished look. For example: different font types and sizes are used. For more examples of characteristics of fake e-mails click here.
10. Encrypt your data
Encryption is the process of encoding files to a form that only those holding the decryption key can read the files. Encrypting your data is a last line of defense. If someone illegally obtain on your data, they will not be able to access it while it is encrypted. Also in case you lose something such as a laptop or USB stick, you can be sure your data will not fall into the wrong hands. There is a wide selection of encryption software you can use to encrypt your data. Data encryption does have a flaw, it works too well. So if you lose your key, you’re going to have a whole lot of trouble getting data back.
11. Make backups of your data
One thing you learn quickly using computers and the internet is that there are no guarantees; following these procedures will make your PC safer, but it does not rule out the possibility that something will go wrong. Therefore, always back up your data on your pc and important information to an external physical medium and keep this in a safe place.
Guidelines to protecting your Home Network
A common misconception today is that cybercriminals will only attempt to break into large business networks. Home networks are often less secured than business networks; this is why they make easy stepping stone targets. Imagine if you were a criminal trying to gain access to a business network, wouldn’t it be easier to first attack the home network of an employee and perhaps try to gain access to the business that way? Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by misconceptions follow these guidelines to protect your home network.
1. Home Network design
Many home networks consist of a modem provided by the ISP and the devices that the end users use. Some of more modern modems from the ISP’s have wireless capabilities built in. However because you are not in total control of the settings of these modems (ISP’s do not give you access to the modem settings) it is recommended you buy a router, connect it to the ISP’s modem and let your devices connect through the internet via your router first then the ISP’s modem. This gives you an added layer of security and more control over your internet access.
2. Secure access to your wireless network(s)
Make sure that enable your router to use Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) to protect the access to your wireless network. Consult your router’s user manual to see how this is done. Older forms of securing Wi-Fi Networks can be cracked within minutes by hackers who can then eavesdrop on your network communication.
3. Use strong passwords on all network devices
Create and maintain strong passwords for all your network devices. Remember your network security is only as strong as the weakest link. Follow our guide above to create strong passwords.
4. Allow network device management only from the inside
Manage your devices only from the internal network. Disable external remote administration of network devices. Consult your router’s user manual for instruction on how to accomplish this.