The Truth About PC Security
If you’re new to computers the whole issue of securing your PC against viruses and other threats may seem too complicated to deal with. You may even be tempted to ignore the issue completely, surf the internet without protection and hope for the best, thinking that it will all sort itself out. Well the bad news is that PC security is complicated, it’s getting more complicated by the day and it WILL NOT sort itself out.
Now that I’ve made you feel totally hopeless, I’m pleased to tell you that there is some good news. Armed with some good advice and a healthy dose of common sense, it is possible to surf the internet securely.
The purpose of this article is to advise you on what you need to do to secure your computer in 5 relatively simple steps. Unfortunately, the common sense part is up to you but since you’re reading one of my articles let’s assume that you’re a highly intelligent person with more common sense than you’ll ever need.
Step 1 – Buy an Internet Security Suite
Yes, the first step in this guide does require you to spend some money but take it from me; a good Internet Security Suite is well worth the investment.
If you’re unsure what an Internet Security Suite is, very briefly, it’s usually a combination of a firewall and antivirus software and I’ll explain what these are shortly. These products can be bought and installed on your computer separately but I always advise people to get a combined product as it’s less complicated. An Internet Security Suite may even include other useful features like ad blocking, anti-spam, or even file backup and PC tune up facilities. I’d love to go into more detail about these but it would be beyond the scope of this article to do so.
What Is A Firewall?
To use a very simplistic analogy, if your computer were your home and all of its functions and processes were a party, a firewall would be the bouncer you hired to keep out any undesirable and uninvited persons. These ‘gatecrashers’ take the form of Viruses, Trojans, Worms and a whole host of other such trouble makers, which we collectively call Malware (malicious software). Your ‘bouncer’ is equipped with a guest list (which you have defined) and he will only allow entry to those ‘guests’ (legitimate websites and internet programs) who have their names on the list. Makes sense? Good.
What Is Antivirus Software?
Antivirus software is akin to antivirus medication. It cleanses your system of viruses and helps you to fight off infection. Just like biological viruses, malware can infect your computer, replicate themselves and severely impair your computer’s normal operations. And that’s if you’re lucky! If you’re unlucky, malware can even steal information from your computer (files, photos, your contact information, credit card details, etc) and send them to God knows who, from God knows where, so they can use them for God knows what! All without your knowledge! Scared? Good. That’s why you need an Internet Security Suite.
Choosing The Right Software
So what is the best Internet Security Suite? Well, it depends on who you ask. The best advice I can give you is to try all of the most reputable ones. Most, if not all of them offer their products on a free trial basis, which lasts for around 30 days. During your free trial you should test the software rigorously using an independent testing source. I personally recommend the Shields Up! Service, which can be found on the Gibson Research Corporation website.
There are a lot of free firewall and antivirus programs available, some of which are very good. However, I would advise you to avoid these if at all possible. In my opinion, they don’t compare with paid for protection.
Whichever software you decide upon, ensure that it has the following essential features.
- Bi-directional (inbound and outbound) IP packet filtering
- Regular virus definition updates (at least once a day)
- The ability to hide or ‘stealth’ your computer’s communication ports
- Real-time (always on) antivirus protection
- Minimum 1 years subscription
Don’t worry if you don’t understand what all of these features are, you can confirm the product’s features with a quick email or telephone enquiry to the software company. Better still, you can browse the company’s website.
Step 2 – Password Protect Your User Accounts
If you share your computer with one or more other people, it would be a very good idea to have your own password protected user account. When you share a computer, its security is no longer your sole responsibility; it’s the responsibility of everyone who uses it. In such an environment, password protecting you own account will not prevent the other users from downloading malware but depending on the circumstances, it may at least prevent the loss of your own data.
If you’re the owner of a shared computer it would be a very good idea to restrict the access of the other users. This means giving them limited accounts so that they can use the computer without being able to make changes to the system that will damage the computer or affect other users. Administrative accounts should only be given to those who really need it for a good reason. And no, “I want to install iTunes™” is not a good reason.
You can change user accounts on your computer by going to the Control Panel.
Step 3 – Beware Of Suspicious Emails
If I had a penny for every time I won a foreign national lottery, I’d be a millionaire! Or if I lost a penny for every time I got a begging letter from West Africa, I’d be broke! All jokes aside, these kinds of scam emails are now an unfortunate part of everyday life for anyone with an inbox. The term for this is called ‘phishing’ because the sender is often ‘fishing’ for your private information (i.e. your name, email address, banking details, etc).
By far, the best way to deal with these annoyances is by using common sense. How could you win a lottery that you have not entered? Why would an exiled Iraqi General need you to help him access money from his frozen bank account? And why would a bank, with whom you don’t have an account, ask you to confirm your online banking details? The overriding principle in dealing with these is, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.” We could also add to that, “If it looks dodgy and sounds dodgy, then it probably is dodgy.”
Some scam emails are a lot more sophisticated than the ones I’ve mentioned so far. Some of them claim to be from reputable and easily recognisable companies, with whom you may have a connection (i.e. PayPal, eBay or your bank). They may even have the company’s logo or website address in the email, and the sender’s email address may even be correct! In this instance, spotting a scam email becomes a lot more difficult but not impossible. Here are some things to remember.
- Email addresses can be faked. Just because an email says it has come from email@example.com doesn’t mean that it actually has
- Website addresses can be faked. Just because a link says http://www.barclays.co.uk, doesn’t mean that’s where it will take you if you click on it
- By and large, banks will NEVER contact you by email and ask you to confirm any details of any kind
A list of Do’s and Don’ts For Dealing With Suspicious Emails
- DO NOT respond to a suspicious email under any circumstance
- DO NOT open any attachments from a suspicious email
- DO NOT click on any links in a suspicious email
- DO delete any email you think is suspicious
- DO use email filtering software (antispam)
- DO contact your bank and ask them if the email they sent you is genuine
Step 4 – Use a Pop-Up Blocker
A pop-up is an internet browser window that ‘pops up’ automatically after visiting a website or clicking a link. These can often be harmful to your computer (depending on the site that called the pop-up). Most browsers come with a facility to prevent these pop-ups from…Well, “popping up.” Check the help files for your particular browser to see if it has this facility and if it does, switch it on!
Also, beware of messages that appear on websites offering you free antivirus software, free registry scans, etc. These messages are often designed to look like genuine messages from your own computer but they are most definitely not! Clicking on them will almost certainly infect your computer with malware.
The only security related messages you should be getting on your screen are the ones from your own security software, which you have installed. Get to know your software, remember what it’s called and the name of the company that makes it. Familiarise yourself with the look and feel of the messages it gives you. After a short time you will be able to spot a real warning message from a fake one.
Step 5 – Secure Your Wireless Network
If you don’t have a wireless network at home this step doesn’t apply to you. If you do have one, it may interest you to know that armed with tools freely available on the internet, a hacker (not even a very good hacker) can access an unsecure wireless network with relative ease. Once access is gained he/she can potentially read the files on your computer, view the pages you’ve browsed on the internet, and even use your internet connection for a whole host of criminal activities. For instance, they could use your internet connection to send bulk emails, hack into other computers, download indecent images of children, and many more.
I’ll be honest with you the chances of this happening are slim but incidents of this kind are on the increase so it’s better to be safe than sorry. It’s also worth mentioning that if somebody does use your wireless internet connection to carry out criminal activities, and it does come to the attention of the authorities, the police will come knocking on your door, not the hacker’s.
So How Do You Secure Your Wireless Network?
This should be your first line of defence against wireless hackers. Encryption basically means placing password protection on your network. Only computers with the password will be able to connect to the network.
Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA)
WPA is one of two common methods of password protecting your wireless network. The other is Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP), which we won’t speak about here since the common opinion is that WEP is far less secure than WPA.
WPA allows you to protect your network with a single word or phrase. The password or passphrase must be between 8 and 63 characters long and can contain upper and lowercase letter, numbers, spaces, and special characters (!@*_, etc).
For more information on how to setup WPA protection, please consult the Windows™ help files on your computer. You can access the help files by clicking on your desktop and then pressing the F1 key.
I hope you found this guide informative, helpful and relatively easy to understand. If you would like to do additional research about PC security, an internet search engine or online encyclopaedia would be a good place to start. I’ve always found them to be an invaluable source of knowledge.
Just to recap on what’s been covered in this article, the 5 steps to PC security are;
- Step 1 – Buy an internet security suite
- Step 2 – Password protect your user accounts
- Step 3 – Beware of suspicious emails
- Step 4 – Use a pop-up blocker
- Step 5 – Secure your wireless network
If you follow these steps you’ll be well along the way to securing your online world.
The information in this article is provided without warranty of any kind; either expressed or implied and should only be used as a guide to PC security as opposed to an exhaustive or comprehensive list.
iTunes™ is a registered trademark of Apple Computers Inc in the United States and other countries. Windows™ is a registered trademark of the Microsoft Corporation in the United States and other countries. Barclays® is a trademark of Barclays Bank PLC. eBay® is a registered trademark of eBay, Inc. PayPal® is a registered trademark of PayPal, Inc. All other trademarks and/or service marks remain the property of their respective owners.