Let’s face it. Bad guys are out there; they are lurking on the Internet; and they are looking for YOU!
To protect yourself from muggers, pickpockets and thieves, you take certain steps. You keep your hands on your wallet or purse in a crowd, and you lock your door when you leave home and at night.
Similarly, you have to take certain steps to protect your cyber life. And these are a bit more complicated and involved that locking your door. But they are equally important if you intend to keep your computer, data, and even your identity safe. Here are 9 steps to a safer, more secure Windows computer…
Step 1: Run an antivirus program.
You should be running an antivirus program all the time whenever your computer is on. And make sure you keep it up to date with the latest program and virus definition updates. A good antivirus program will automatically detect and deflect many illicit attempts to compromise your computer. There are free and paid programs, and the “best” according to reviews keeps changing. Personally, I use the free version of AVG, but I’m not necessarily recommending it. The most important thing is that you keep a reputable antivirus program running in the background and keep it up to date. You can get the free version of AVG at: www.avg.com/ww-en/free-antivirus-protection.
Step 2: Run an occasional malware scan.
Viruses are just one type of malicious software that can compromise your computer. Adware, worms, trojans, spyware, rootkits… they all do different things, but they are all unwelcome guests inside your computer. Anti-malware programs are designed to detect these kinds of intrusions and rid you of them. I recommend Malwarebytes. It is available for free download at www.malwarebytes.org/antimalware/. Once installed, I suggest you run a scan once a week to keep your computer free of malware
Step 3: Be careful with your email.
One of the biggest sources for acquiring malware that will put your computer at risk is through your email. Look at every email suspiciously. NEVER click on an email attachment that comes to you from a source you don’t know. For that matter, be careful clicking on attachments in emails from people you do know. Email accounts can be hacked or “from” addresses spoofed so that they look like they are coming from someone you know, when in reality they are being sent by someone else. I usually don’t even click on Website links in emails from friends, because so called “drive-by Websites” can download malicious software into your computer just by going to the site.
Step 4: Keep Windows up to date.
Vulnerabilities are being discovered in Windows and other operating systems on an ongoing basis. Windows 7 and 8 offer you the option of letting Windows download the latest updates automatically, or not. Windows 10 Home Edition doesn’t give you the choice. It will always give you the latest updates and patches the close the latest vulnerability holes. The recommended setting on Windows 7 and 8 is to let Windows update automatically. That way you will always have the latest and safest version of your operating system.
Step 5: Keep your browser up to date.
Your browser is the main communication program most of us use to interact with the Internet. And just like Windows, your browser, too, can have security vulnerabilities. Make sure you are running the latest version of your browser. And by the way, do NOT allow your browser to “remember” you passwords (see next step).
Step 6: Turn on Windows firewall.
Included in Windows is a “firewall” program. It acts like a traffic cop, monitoring communication between your computer and the outside world. If it detects anything suspicious trying to establish communication with your computer, it will alert you and let you decide whether to allow the communication or stop it dead. Make sure your Windows firewall is turned on.
Step 7: Use strong passwords.
Using simple words as passwords may be easy for you to remember, but they are also easy for intruders to crack. Always use “strong” passwords of at least 12 characters, with a mixture of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Do not use words that could be found in a dictionary, and use a different password for every Website you access.
Using complex and multiple passwords means you are going to need some kind of secure password software to manage all these passwords. Do NOT allow your browser to remember passwords. Browser password management is notoriously insecure. Use software that is specifically designed to keep your passwords secure and facilitate entering them into your Website login screens. For years I have used KeePass2 and I recommend it. Download it for free at keepass.info.
Step 8: Encrypt sensitive files.
Files containing financial information, medical records (and anything else you consider sensitive) should be encrypted. Encrypted files cannot be read without an encryption program and a strong password to open them up into a readable form. This protects you if your files are somehow pilfered, or even if your entire computer is stolen or lost … a significant possibility with a laptop. I recommend VeraCrypt encryption program. You can download it for free at veracrypt.codeplex.com.
Step 9: Be suspicious all the time.
Bottom line, people ARE out to get you through your computer. Look at everything through a suspicious eye, and if there is any doubt, don’t click, don’t download, don’t visit.