Securing Your Personal Computer

Securing your personal computer might seem like a difficult concept to grasp at first, but it can actually be quite easy, provided you have the right tools, the right strategy, and the right mindset. Here are some ways to keep your personal computer (and your sensitive private information) as safe as possible from virtual intruders.

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Install a good anti-virus system

If you want your personal computer to remain secure, installing a great anti-virus system is often the first step. Recently, Consumer Reports named BitDefender its top pick, with a rating of 65 (taking into account factors like performance, ease of use, scan speed, resources, help, net threats, etc.) (The next three? ESET Smart Security 4 Home Edition, Avira Premium Security Suite, and Norton Internet Security 2011.) Good, reliable anti-virus software is designed to detect and eliminate viruses, trojans, keyloggers, worms, etc. Top-rated pick BitDefender Internet Security 2011 is available for $59.95 (a discounted rate that basically gives you six free months) for up to three different PCs.

Use a Firewall

Firewalls are devices that protect against threats–like hackers trying to steal passwords or other sensitive information–from public networks (like the Internet.) They can be purchased individually, or as part of an Internet security suite (such as some of the anti-virus options discussed above.) Though many operating systems come equipped with  firewalls, many are also available for purchase. Check Point Zone Alarm’s firewall package is highly-rated and free, and is compatible with Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP (thought you can also upgrade it to “Pro,” which adds “advanced download protection” and 24/7 live chat support and upgrades.)

Update Everything — Constantly

Make sure your operating system–whether its Mac, Linux, Windows–is up-to-date. Operating systems need to be continually updated in response to newer and better threats from viruses and hacker technologies (as well as simple bug fixes.) This updating rule applies to everything, especially your software. Configure your system preferences so that you receive software updates daily (and commit to really downloading them as they become available.)

Secure Your Wireless Network

Wireless networks are especially susceptible to intruder attacks. Encryption encodes sensitive data; the Wireless Protected Access (WPA) and WPA2 are much more secure than the somewhat outdated Wireless Encryption Protocol (WEP). Make sure your encryption key password is extra-strong.

If you’re at public wi-fi “hotspots,” it may be harder to protect your computer from wireless threats. Some “hotspots” are not legitimate but “puppet” routers that exist only to seize user information. Be wary about performing any kind of financial transaction over an unsecured connection; make sure that the URL has an “s” after the “http” (as in, https://url.com), which signifies that the transmitted data is encrypted. Many sites, such as banking sites, build in their own encryption.

Don’t Download Everything You See

Exercise discretion when browsing the Internet–especially when downloading files (even if they arrive in your email inbox.) Don’t click on spam email, even if you don’t download anything–it’ll probably prompt more mail of a similar kind (and may automatically start downloading an attachment, anyway.) Don’t know what they look like? They’re typically unsolicited, for one, with poor grammar and spelling, usually with an offer embedded. “Phishing” emails often ask for sensitive login information from an established service (like Paypal or Amazon) but send you a link to an illegitimate site. Make sure to check and double-check that the site actually exists as presented.

 

David Henderson is a freelance writer for Venafi.  Venafi helps to simplify the management of symmetric keys across enterprises and reduce unquantified and unmanaged risks.

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