Computer Security

Computers and the Internet provide a portal that could be infiltrated by criminals. We must take security precautions to protect our privacy from cybercriminals, just as we safeguard other areas of our lives. Following are tips for using computers and the Internet safely.

Hardware

  • The best security measure you can take is to install a firewall, which is as important for home computers as it is for businesses.
  • Make backups of important files and keep the backup somewhere other than on your computer.
  • Install an anti-virus program and keep it updated. Cybercriminals develop new viruses and other threats to your computer all the time. Your anti-virus program should be updated whenever a new version is available. The source of your anti-virus program will advise you when an update is available.
  • Turn off software features you don't use, such as instant messaging, printer sharing and file sharing.
  • Keep operating system and web browser software updated. When software companies discover problems with their system - and this happens frequently – the company will develop a patch to fix the problem. Make sure you get the patches your system needs as they become available. Monthly updates for Microsoft Windows users are available at www.Microsoft.com/security. Mac users will find updates at www.apple.com/support/.

Email

  • Do not open email from people you don't know.
  • Never open an attachment you didn't request.
  • Watch for "phishing" schemes. Learn more about phishing.
  • Report spam to your Internet service provider or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by sending an email to spam@uce.gov.
  • Do not click on links in spam messages.

Web

  • Set up unique passwords. Use at least eight characters with a combination of letters and numbers. Avoid common words, especially the name of your spouse, child or pet. Also avoid using your birthday, any part of your Social Security number or street address. Capitalizing one letter in your password provides added security.
  • Do not share files or swap music, movie or other entertainment files over the Internet. File-sharing puts you at risk for infection or exposure of personal information since file-sharers have the opportunity to insert spyware, viruses and worms onto the files without your knowledge.
  • Turn on your browser's built-in security features and disable features you don't use like instant messenger, and features that allow for automatic downloads. To find out how to increase the security settings on your Web browser, check the help menu for your browser. Increasing security settings may limit some functions on websites, but can provide additional protection against hackers.
  • Don't click on links in pop-up windows.
  • If you suspect a website is not what it claims to be, leave it immediately. Do not follow any of the instructions it presents.
  • Only use your credit card number or provide other sensitive personal information on Internet sites that you go to directly and are not directed to via an unsolicited email. Make sure the site has a secure, encrypted system - look for the "HTTPS" in the address line or lock icon.
  • You can verify a website's digital security certificate by clicking on the "closed lock" or "solid key" image located in the bottom bar of your browser window. A small frame with site security information will appear. Click the word 'Subject' for Internet Explorer to verify you are on the correct website, and make sure the registered owner matches the site. To verify the site certification authority, click the 'Issuer' tab. For Netscape, click on "View Certificate" to view subject and issuer details.

Wireless Security

Your financial information and computer could be in jeopardy if you use wireless Internet access, known as WiFi (wireless fidelity) and your system is not properly locked down. Following are steps you can take to safeguard your computer and private information from hackers:

  • Change default passwords when you set up your system. Your system will likely be pre-configured with default administrator passwords to simplify setup. These default passwords don't provide any protection. When selecting passwords, make them as hack-proof as possible. Never use actual words, your child's or pet's name, your birthday or other personal information. Use a combination of letters and numbers, and capitalize a letter to make it more difficult to hack.
  • Turn on your wireless router's WEP (Wired Equivalency Protocol). The WEP provides a key created by a multi-digit passcode that is needed to access your wireless network.
  • Don't broadcast your SSID (the name of your network). Consult your user documentation to see if you can change the default SSID to make it more difficult to guess.
  • You can add an additional layer of security to your wireless network by installing a firewall directly on your wireless devices (a host-based firewall) - in addition to the firewall on your network. Additional security measure will help stop attackers from tapping directly into your wireless network and circumventing your network firewall.

Be careful when accessing the Internet from a wireless system in a public place like a hotel, cyber-cafe or "hotspot." Hotspots link wireless devices like laptops and PDAs to the Internet via nearby connection points. Cybercriminals are able to set up what is called an "evil twin" using a stronger signal, taking you into their network. This makes accessing sensitive information like bank or other online accounts from these public places risky. Before accessing your personal or financial information online, make sure the wireless network is secure and that your device's security systems are turned on.

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