Hackers often make the news when they interfere with the operation of some giant eCommerce site or steal thousands of credit card numbers. This, however, is just a small part of the issue. Criminals often target individual users and home computers. They can take over the computer to force it to send out email spam, plant programs that steal personal information like credit card numbers and login data, and do other such nefarious things. Therefore, it is highly important for everyone to personally use good internet security practices.
There are many basic things individuals can do to make their internet experience more secure. It isn’t necessary to “lock down” the computer to the point where it’s a hassle to use it. Common sense, along with the proper security programs, goes a long way.
One of the most commonly-advised measures is to never open an email from someone you don’t know. Along with that, emails with unexpected attachments should never be opened, even if you do know the sender. This is because some viruses force a compromised computer to try to send copies of itself to everyone in that computer’s email address book. By doing this, a friend’s computer can be forced to send you a virus without the person even being aware of it. Verifying with your friend that he or she actually sent an attachment is a good way to make sure the email is actually okay.
Software and even music or movie files from unverifiable sources is another repository of viruses, adware, and other assorted malware. The “free” software found through torrent sites and other such sources is notorious for this, to the point where it could be said that there is actually a cost to these programs after all: a malware infection. Avoiding the downloading of software from such places goes a long way to prevent your computer from being compromised. If you must download from unofficial sites, make sure to have the very latest version of good anti-virus software running, and don’t believe claims that its warnings are “false positives.”
Running a good anti-virus program gives an extra layer of security to even the most careful computer user. A decent program of this type can not only find malware that’s already on your computer; it can prevent new infections from occurring. This can be done by blocking the downloading of bad email attachments or software, or by blocking virus-infected sites from being accessed. Look for one that will protect you well, but without being so aggravating that you end up turning it off.
A firewall program is the natural companion to your anti-virus. Sometimes, crooks will just try to compromise any computer they can make a connection to. Firewalls block these and other such attempts. A firewall alone, however, won’t stop malware from being downloaded to your computer. Therefore, an anti-virus needs to be used with it.
Password security is the final point this article will touch on. Passwords should be hard to guess – a random combination of letters and numbers is best – but they should also be able to be memorized. It does no good to have a super-secure password if you have to put it on a Post-It Note to be able to use it. If you have too many passwords to remember, it can help to put them in a file and then password-protect the file with a sequence you can recall. There are also programs you can buy that are made specifically for this purpose.
No form of security is absolutely failsafe, but internet surfing doesn’t have to be inherently dangerous. With all the above measures in place, and a heavy dose of common sense, you should be safe from most attempts to compromise your computer.