Lock the Door to Your PC — Security Tips Everyone Can UseBy Zach Monroe
Security Tips for All Users
It is always important to make sure your system is as secure as you can make it. From the novice user to the system admin, computer security should be a top priority.
Think of it this way — is there any way you can guarantee that you won’t get sick? I guess if you lived in a plastic bubble you’d have a pretty good chance of staying away from viruses and other causes of illness. But if you did that then you’d miss out on a lot of experiences that take place outside the bubble. So you do your best to stay healthy while at the same time experiencing everything life has to offer; at the risk of possibly getting sick.
This same theory holds true when it comes to computer security. If you kept it off a network and never allowed it to connect, by keeping it in the proverbial plastic bubble, your system would remain nearly 100% secure (as long as no one picked it up and walked off with it). But, you’d be missing out on all of the experiences, such as the internet (thanks Al Gore), that your PC has to offer.
Quick side note: If you see me mention Al Gore in any of my articles it’s because he was the inventor of the Internet and Global Warming…and the Environment, and probably many other things. Look it up; it’s on the internet.
Anyway, there are measures that we all can take to ensure that our system is as secure as possible while still taking advantage of the benefits that our systems offer us.
Most of you will think that basic security like passwords, security suites, and updates are a given but you’d be surprised how many people still do not properly implement these fundamental security strategies. I’ll start with what I and many others simply call strong passwords. A strong password consists of a few basic features:
- A minimum of Six characters long; preferably more
- A mix of Letters, Numbers, and even Symbols
- A mix of Capital Letters and Lower Case Letters
- Is not your name, a pets name, your birthday, ect…Nothing familiar that the average person could easily figure out
- Try to avoid words you can find in the dictionary…If you are using an actual word, put in some symbols
A strong password should look something like this: 35p@S$WorD35
Common Sense Disclaimer: Using the above password may be easier than making copies of your Social Security Card and Credit Cards and canvasing your neighborhood with them like restaurant menus, but either method will give you the same result. Please come up with your own password that hasn’t been viewed by thousands of people like this one.
Recently I came across an impressive little “browser hijacker” that took control of, you guessed it, my internet browser. I downloaded a password recovery tool and I was in a hurry to do it, wasn’t very diligent and ended up with a hijacked browser. The interesting thing about a browser hijacker is that you may not notice it right at first. It took me a couple hours to realize what was going on but I slowly started noticing that any site I went to that had advertising in the side bar was displaying the same advertisement. It just didn’t make sense to me that CNet.com would have penis enlargement advertisements (sadly when I was on the Chicago Cubs website no alarms went off in my head).
So I set about trying to remove this little pest by using Windows Defender. The impressive thing is that it would actually lock up Windows Defender and then lock up my entire computer, so I couldn’t get rid of it. I ended up purchasing Norton and making a few tweaks to my registry and System folder to get my system back to normal (we’ll talk about that in a different article). My point in all of this is that a virus or the like can descend on the best of us, so you need to make sure you have a security suite. Now, the next question is, “Well what security suite is right for me?” I’ll tell you right off the bat that Norton has always been my first choice. I’ve always used Norton and it’s something I’m comfortable with. However, I’m sure I won’t be the first to tell you that security wise, most of the security suites out there protect your computer the same way and you really can’t tell much of a difference between them.
Noting the similarities in security suites many people ask, “Which security system is going to protect my computer but also allow me to maintain my system performance?” This is an excellent question and something that I suggest you pay attention to. Click on the chart below, from pcmag.com to get an idea of how each security suite will effect your system performance.
Before we continue on just know that I didn’t overlook the fact that Microsoft has announced a free security suite offering called “Morro“, which they plan to roll out in the second half of 2009. That’s another topic for another day as well, but you can take a look at the press release to get a better idea of what “Morro” is.
Automatic Updates are Your Friend
Don’t be afraid to turn on automatic updates. You’re not giving anything away by doing it and it doesn’t allow Microsoft to somehow get into your system. Automatic Updates really only installs security patches from Microsoft that make sure your computer is as secure as possible; as the security landscape is constantly changing to keep up with the constantly changing threats. Take a look at the steps below to setup Automatic Updates on XP or Vista.
Automatic Updates on Windows XP
1. Go to Start and click Control Panel
2. Click on Performance and Maintenance
3. If your Control Panel does not look like the picture above you can click Switch to Category View
5. Click the Automatic Updates tab
6. Select Automatic
7. If you want to you can also change when Automatic Updates downloads and installs your updates
8. Click OK to apply your changes
Automatic Updates on Windows Vista
1. Go to Start
2. Click All Programs
3. Click Windows Update
4. Click Change Settings
5. Click Install Updates Automatically
6. Click OK to apply the changes
Lock the “Door” to Your PC
Making sure your computer is as secure as possible is something that anyone can do. If you follow the security tips I’ve outlined here you will be one step closer to making sure your computer is properly protected. You wouldn’t leave your door unlocked when you’re not home; so make sure you lock the “door” to your computer.
About the Author
Zach Monroe (A+, MCTS) has a B.S. in Business with an emphasis in Computer Information Systems and a Pre-Law minor from Eastern Illinois University. He has experience in many different areas, including construction of large scale Oracle databases, coauthoring and publishing business plans, and working as a licensed insurance agent, senior customer service representative and trainer for a major insurance company. He was also involved in nonprofit work for Big Brothers Big Sisters, designing and implementing databases and front end software using Visual Basic.