The safety and security of your personal computer is almost certainly something you are been dealing with for a long time. If you keep your anti-virus software updated and establish strong passwords for your on-line accounts, changing them on a regular basis, you have got all your bases covered. To make your computer experience truly secure and keep those identity thieves at bay, read on for some of the below killer tips.
Update your Windows Operating System
Check if you have the latest security updates installed in your Windows operating system.
To get the security updates automatically, go to Control Panel and check if your automatic updating is turned on or follow the steps below:
- Access the search box in your Windows operating system, type update and then Windows Update.
- Select Change settings.
- Click Install updates automatically (recommended), in case it is not already selected.
After the initial installation of available updates, keep the automatic update turned on in order to download and install the important updates. This will help to protect your computer against from malicious software, resolve general Windows issues/bugs and also access new Windows and software features.
Note: It is a very important step to install the latest security and stability fixes for your operating system, since hackers and cybercriminals always try to benefit from these security holes.
Update your Software
It is important to have not only your Windows operating system up to date, but also the software you are using.
Hackers try to exploit popular software, such as Java, Firefox, Quicktime, Chrome, or Internet Explorer e.t.c. always make sure you have the latest available patches.
Create a Clean Installation Restore Point
After you have installed your security updates for your Windows operating system, make sure you have created a Restore Point for your installation.
You can create the Restore Point as soon as your finished with Windows installation and all the updates.
To create a restore point do the following:
- Clicking Start\right-click Computer\Properties.
- In the left pane, click System protection (if you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation).
- Click the System Protection tab, and then click Create.
- In the System Protection dialogue box, type a description, and then click Create (name it something like Clean installation and then you can continue installing drivers and applications).
In case one of the drivers crash your system, you can always go back to the Clean installation restore point.
Install an Antivirus
Use a known antivirus product from a big security company. It is important to have a reliable security solution on your system, which should include real-time scanning, automatic update and a firewall.
To find the best solution, check the antivirus test results run by big company names, such as AV Comparatives, PC Magazine, AV-TEST or Virus Bulletin and select the best antivirus solution for your system.
In case you choose to install a security product that does not contain a firewall, make sure you have turned on the Windows firewall or install another third party solution such as Zone Alarm or Comodo.
Install an Anti-spyware
Spyware refers to that category of software which installs on your computer sending pop-ups, redirecting your browser to malicious websites or in some cases, it may even monitor your browsing history.
Usually, these are the signs a computer is infected with spyware:
- computer is slow when opening programs or running some applications
- pop-up windows appear all the time
- a new toolbar may appear in your web browser
- the Home page of your web browser has been modified
- the search engine in your web browser has been changed
- error messages start to appear unexpectedly
To avoid having spyware on your system, follow these good security practices:
- do not click any suspicious links or pop-up windows
- do not answer to unexpected answers or simply choose No
- be careful when downloading free applications
How can I remove spyware/malware from my system? There are a number of popular anti-spyware products you can use to protect your system from malware. Some of the best security solutions according on my opinion and experience are Malwarebytes, Spybot Search and Destroy. There are many others in the market, use the one that suits you.
Back up your System
The steps above are meant to keep you safe from malicious software and on-line threats, but you may still encounter hardware issues that could endanger your private information. To make sure your data stays safe, you should consider to include a combining back up solution, an external hard drive usage with an on-line backup service.
I need to emphasize the importance of having a backup solution. On-line backups solutions such as Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, Box and others provides stability, it is easy to use, allows you to synchronize your files with the on-line backup servers and provides security. Another reliable solution is Windows Backup system which could be accessed from Start\Control Panel\Backup and Restore.
In a business environment use always the network drives to store your data.
Previously I have covered How to Backup to Another Computer Using CrashPlan it is worth it to check this article as backing up your data protects you in the event of a computer crash or electrical outage or surge, like a lightning storm might produce.
Use a Standard User Account to Login
Windows grants a certain level of rights and privileges depending on what kind of user account you have. You may have a standard user account or an administrator user account.
It is recommended to use standard accounts for your computer to prevent users from making changes that affect everyone who uses the computer, such as deleting important Windows files necessary for the system.
In case you want to install an application or make security changes, Windows will ask you to provide the credentials for an administrator account.
Using a standard account you make sure that a piece of malware which infects a limited-user account won’t do much damage as one infecting an administrator account.
Use Strong Password
In order to protect data it is a must to create a strong password and keep it safe. It is better to create a complex password which makes it impossible for hackers to strike. Users can go in for a longer and complicated password.
If you do not want to use a password manager or to set a strong password, at least make sure you follow a few simple rules:
- the password should contain over 8 characters
- combine upper/lower case letters, numbers and symbols
- do not use the same password for other accounts
- change your password at least every 30 days
Keep your User Account Control Turned ON
Many users have the tendency to turn off User Account Control after installing/reinstalling the Windows operating system. I do not recommend this. Instead of disabling the UAC, you can decrease the intensity level using a slider in the Control Panel.
UAC monitors what changes are going to be made to your computer. When important changes appear, such as installing a program or removing an application, the UAC pops up asking for an administrator-level permission.
In case your user account is infected with malware, UAC helps you by keeping suspicious programs and activities from making changes on the system.
Use BitLocker to Encrypt your Hard Drive
Even if you set a password to your Windows account, intruders can still get access to your private files and documents. They can simply do this by booting into their own operating system.
A solution for this is to encrypt your hard drive and protect all your files. It is wise to use this security method specially if you use a portable device such as a laptop, which can be easily stolen.
BitLocker is available on the latest Windows operating systems. BitLocker is disabled by default and can be enabled from Start\Control Panel\BitLocker Drive Encryption\Turn on BitLocker.
After you have enabled the BitLocker protection, you won’t notice any difference as you do not have to enter anything else but your normal Windows user account password to access your account.
Secure your Web Browser
Since our web browser is the main tool used to access the Internet, it is important to secure it before going on-line.
The vulnerabilities on your web browser are like open door invitations to hackers. Using these vulnerabilities, the attackers will try to remove private information or destroy important data.
To stay safe while accessing various web pages, make sure you respect the following:
- Choose the latest version for your browser and update every time an update is available.
- Make a series of security changes in your web browser settings something which I will cover in due course.
- Choose a private browsing session when you access a website you are not sure about (this browsing mode will prevent authentication credentials or cookies from being stored).
- Install a pop-up blocker since stealing malware spreads through malicious code embedded in pop-up windows even in legitimate websites.
Remove Temporary Files
Every time you browse the internet your PC tends to store information. Information will be stored when you place an on-line order or internet banking. The PC will store these temporary internet files in order to boost the speed. But you may not be aware that your information might be noticed by a virus or a hacker. You could lose confidential information if you do not take proper measures to protect your PC.
Avoid Opening Unknown Emails and Attachments
You should be careful while opening e-mail attachments on your PC, especially if the attachments arrive in your inbox from unknown suspicious source or senders you do not recognize. You have to be careful of emails coming from people on your contact list as well, especially if the sender’s account has been hacked. If an email from someone you regularly communicate with has a suspicious link and unusual content, delete it and immediately alert this person that his/her account may have been compromised. This will help you prevent hacking and phishing scams where you may be a target off.
Suspicious Links – Website Scoring Tool
To make sure you won’t be infected by clicking on dangerous links, hover the mouse over the link to see if you are directed to a legitimate location. If you were supposed to reach your favourite but the link indicates something else, then you now know that is dangerous to click the link. You could always check the links in advances by using free tools such as Redirect Detective, VirusTotal or McAfee SiteAdvisor software. Those tools, will rate and score websites to help you safely surf the web. These programs are designed to flag suspicious domains and let you know which links are likely to have malware, all while you are searching with Google or other search engines.
Social Media Scams
Most people know to ignore and delete suspicious emails, but many are not aware of scams taking place on social media sites. Many promotions are actually ploys to pull your personal data, so verify a company is reputable and trustworthy before interacting with it. Even then, be highly selective when signing up, opting in or downloading.
Encrypt your Wireless Router
Encrypting your wireless router is necessary, if not any hacker can simply jump into your network and may even access the information that is stored in your PC.
Use Public WiFi with Caution
The ability to get on-line from virtually anywhere is a great advantage, but it does not come without risks. Public networks are notoriously easy for hackers to “mimic” and reroute—all they’d need to do to access credit card numbers or personal information you share. To stay safe, save banking transactions and on-line purchases for when you are using a secure home network.
For the security of your system is advisable to add a Kensington lock. It is so easy these days to have your laptop stolen. Adding a physical security measure does not seem to be a bad idea.
Though Kensington locks are usually used in large places, like libraries, public offices and so on, this does not mean you can’t use one in your own home.
The steps above are meant to keep you safe on-line. But, at the same time, following them means that you also set up your system to work smoothly for on-line browsing we do every day.
Please leave your comments below with your favourite solution or share the one you use and not listed above so I can check them out and possibly add them to this article.