General Crime

6 Steps to Computer Security

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Computers  have revolutionized how we learn, work, shop, pay bills, keep track of our accounts, and communicate with others. Your computer is like your  home – it contains sensitive and valuable information, so it’s a good idea to keep it locked and be careful about who you let in.  Intruders lurking in cyberspace or those who have physical access to  your computer may try to steal financial information stored in your computer, or use it to attack other computer systems.


 Some  individuals simply enjoy sending out viruses that can destroy your files  and require expensive computer repairs.  By taking some basic security steps, you can use your computer with  confidence and protect yourself and your personal information from  abuse.

Step  One: Pick an Effective Password


Passwords  are the keys that unlock access to your email, accounts, and other  computer activities. They must be chosen to prevent intruders from  correctly guessing them based on knowledge about you or cracking them  with software programs that try every word in the dictionary until they  get a match.


Use a combination  of letter and numbers.


Avoid obvious  things such as your birth date.


Pick passwords  that you can remember.


Don’t write  passwords down where others may find them.


Keep your  passwords private and be suspicious of people who ask for them  claiming to be from companies that should already have them.


Step  Two: Build a Firm Firewall


A  firewall is like the fence around a fort – it makes it harder for intruders to get into your computer from cyberspace. This is especially  important if you have a high-speed Internet connection through your  cable provider or DSL (digital subscriber line), because the doorway  from your computer to the Internet is open whenever your computer is on,  even if you aren’t doing anything online at that moment.


Check to see if  your computer hardware or software already has a built-in firewall.


If it does, it  may be necessary to turn the firewall feature on.


If you don’t  already have one, you can find free firewall software on the  Internet or purchase software.


Another option is  using an external (?)firewall device that connects to your computer.


Firewalls  differ, and some can be customized to suit your particular needs, so  read the descriptions carefully.


Step  Three: Avoid Catching a Computer Virus


Your  computer can become infected and infect other computers with viruses  that may be planted in emails or attachments to emails, in programs or  files that you download, in floppy disks, and even in Web sites that you  visit. The first line of defense is an anti-virus program. This is not  the same as a firewall – both are needed since they protect you from  different types of attacks. You can buy anti-virus software online or in  retail stores.


Get an  anti-virus program that updates itself automatically.


Look for programs  that can also repair damage caused by a virus.


Don’t open  email or email attachments unless you expected the message and know  who it’s from.


Only download  files and programs and use disks from sources you know and trust.


Don’t forward  email warnings about new viruses to your friends – they could be  hoaxes designed to spread a virus instead of warn against them.


Step  Four: Back It Up


Just  as you might use a safe-deposit box to guard valuables, consider  safeguarding important items that are in your computer so they won’t  be lost if a virus strikes, your computer crashes, or there is some  other kind of disaster. Financial records, research, writing, original  artwork, and work files that would be difficult to reconstruct or  replace should be backed up regularly.


Don’t rely on paper copies for  things that would require inputting the data all over again, such as  computerized check registers.


Use floppy disks  to back up small files, CDs or removable disk drives for larger  files.


Some items, such  as bank records, should be backed up every time a change is made,  while others might require less frequent back-ups.


Set schedules  for backing up files and stick to them.


Store back-ups  in a locked, fireproof container.


Step  Five: Keep Up to Date


“Hackers”  (outsiders who try to get into computers through the Internet) and virus  creators are constantly looking for new ways to get around the  protections that are put in place to thwart them. To keep your computer  secure, you need to keep one step ahead of them.


Take advantage of  “patches” that your software manufacturers may offer when they  discover flaws in their programs that can make them vulnerable to  hackers, viruses, and other problems. These can often be downloaded  at no charge from the manufacturers’ Web sites.


If your  anti-virus software doesn’t automatically update itself to detect  and stop new viruses, get updated software at least once a year.


Update your  firewall regularly.


Step  Six: Control the Use of Your Computer


If  you share your computer with roommates, children, or other users, it’s  crucial for everyone to follow the same security rules.


Make sure that  all users understand the dangers of security breaches and how to  avoid them.


Turn the  computer off when no one is using it.


Don’t share  passwords that would enable others to get into personal accounts  that you may have set up in your computer.


Keep the  computer in a common area where you can see who is using it and what  they’re doing.


Instruct all  users to tell you immediately if they suspect there is a security  problem.


Don’t  panic if a security breach occurs. Report viruses and hackers to your  Internet service provider (ISP). If you have high-speed Internet access  through cable or DSL, unplug the phone or cable line from your computer.  Your ISP and software and hardware vendors may offer advice about how to  remedy the problem. If you believe that someone has obtained your  financial information, contact the financial institution immediately.  Try to determine how the security breach occurred so you can strengthen  your protection in the future.


Learn  More about How to Keep Secure


 The  National Consumers League provides information about how to protect  yourself from identity theft, shop safely online, and guard your online  privacy.

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