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How to Protect Your Windows PC or Mac
The tips in this article will tell you exactly what to do in order to protect your Windows PC or Mac from hackers, spammers and identity thieves. An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure!
It doesn’t take much time, money or expertise to secure your computer, especially compared to the cost of repairs or lost work! You just have to know what to do and then do it. The following tips distilled from my booklet Top Ten Tips™: Computer Security will help you take a few simple steps now to prevent huge headaches later!
Tip #2 Secure Your Wireless Network
I don’t have to buy Internet access at home because my neighbors—I’m not sure which ones—are kind enough to leave their wireless network open. Shocking as it is, in my experience even professional Internet access installers often set up wireless networks without password protection.
If someone can bring a laptop into your home or office and get online without entering a password, you’ve rolled out the welcome mat to anyone nearby, even someone out on the street. Not only can they slow down your Internet connection by downloading music or watching YouTube, but once on your local network it’s that much easier for them to break into your computer. Password protect your wireless network!
For up to date links to instructions on how to enable password protection on the most popular wireless routers for both Macs and Windows PCs, see www.bitmojo.com/tips/wireless.
When using a laptop to access wireless Internet at a coffee shop or other public location, be sure you’re using a network you trust. Thieves have been known to set up open wireless networks for the purpose of eavesdropping on your connection to steal passwords or other valuable information.
Tip #8 Use a Spyware Removal Tool
A few years ago I read 80% of Windows PCs were infected with spyware, which is software that steals information from your computer without your knowledge. Even if it was only half true, it was an epidemic!
Things have improved since antivirus software started addressing this type of threat, however it’s still a good idea to make sure no spyware resides on your Windows PC, especially if it’s running slow or otherwise acting funny. Spyware is less of an issue on Macs or Linux because fewer users make those systems a less appealing target.
For Windows 2000, XP and Vista I recommend Microsoft’s free Malicious Software Removal Tool. It detects and helps remove spyware. If you have configured Windows to use Automatic Update, the latest version of this tool is automatically delivered to you each month and runs in the background so it can warn you of any threats. For updated links on where to download this tool if you’d like to install and run it manually, see www.bitmojo.com/tips/spyware.
Two other excellent (and free) choices for spyware removal are Spybot Search & Destroy available at www.safer-networking.org, and the free version of Ad-Aware available at www.lavasoftusa.com. Both programs have been around for many years and enjoy a strong following.
Tip #9 Use Strong Passwords
Because hackers looking to steal your identity or financial information can use programs to guess thousands of passwords in rapid succession, you should use passwords that cannot be easily guessed. This goes for your email account, online banking, and any other account that allows access to sensitive information.
Making a password hard to guess means first of all making it different from the username for logging in to that account. For example, if you use “email@example.com” as the username to log in to your email account, don’t use “chris” as part of your password.
To be secure, your password needs to be more than just a word that can be found in the dictionary. It should include a mix of uppercase and lowercase letters, plus one or more numbers or special characters. Special characters include punctuation marks and the other symbols located at the top of the number keys on your keyboard. Passwords should be at least eight characters long.
For a current link to the Password Checker at Microsoft’s web site, see www.bitmojo.com/tips/password. This tool evaluates the strength of a password as you type it.
Tip #10 Make Regular Backups
It’s not a matter of if, but when. Sooner or later you will lose valuable information stored on your computer, whether due to accidentally deleting it, a software crash, virus infection, or hard drive failure. Since making backups is the easiest thing in the world to procrastinate, you should run software on your computer that automatically backs up your files on a regular basis.
If you use Microsoft’s Windows Live OneCare service, it lets you create a backup plan to safeguard your files. If not, many external hard drives come bundled with backup software. For updated links to reviews of external hard drives, see www.bitmojo.com/tips/drives.
For backups I recommend using an external Firewire or USB hard drive. Try to find one that’s at least twice as big as the hard drive in your computer. That way you can back up your entire system and keep previous versions of files, so you can restore them to where they were before the disaster happened.
Also be sure to occasionally back up your computer to DVDs and store them at a different location. That will keep a house fire or other catastrophe from destroying all your files.
Learn more about the author, Chris Tsongas.
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