The 5-Step Safe Computing Program

There are five basic steps you can take to secure your computer. While your computer at work may be protected, your home computer or laptop may need to have this protection.

And these practices are not just for Windows computers. They apply to any computer. Pass them along to others.

Step 1 – Install and Use a Firewall

A firewall protects your computer like your fireplace screen protects your home from fire-causing sparks. Without a firewall, your computer is easily attacked and controlled. If your computer is connected to the Internet without a firewall, you can expect to be attacked within 30 minutes, even on a dial-up connection.

If an attacker gains control of your computer, they can do anything to your computer. They can steal your information, your checkbook files, your bank login name and password, credit card numbers, etc. They can turn your computer into a mail spamming machine. They can use your computer to store offensive (adult) files. They can store other illegal information on your computer. And you could be liable for that use of your computer.

A firewall helps prevent the hacker or criminal from controlling or accessing your computer.

If you have Windows XP, enable the XP Firewall. Or install another firewall program. More information is available at Microsoft’s Security site (www.microsoft.com/protect ).

Test your firewall with the ShieldsUp! program from Gibson Research here: http://www.grc.com/default.htm . Scroll down to click on the ShieldUp! link, then do a ‘Common Ports’. The results should be “Stealth” or “Closed”. Any “Open” results are a risk.

Step 2 – Use and Update Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware Software

If you don’t have current anti-virus software, it’s easy for a virus to get into your system. That virus can delete files, or give the hacker control over your computer, even if you have a firewall in place.

And you must keep the anti-virus software current with regular updates. Daily checking for updates is a best practice. Updates can happen at any time, and your computer needs them to be protected against known viruses.

Options for anti-spyware programs to use at home are Microsoft Defender (www.microsoft.com/protect), Ad-Aware (www.lavasoft.de/ms/index.htm ), or Spybot Search & Destroy (www.spybot.com/en/index.html). All are free.

Make it a weekly practice to use your anti-spyware program (make sure to install the latest updates before your scan).

Step 3 – Use Secure and Original Passwords

Passwords are a reality of using a computer. You have to have them, and they have to be unique. Passwords are the key to your information. Assume that someone is continually trying to ‘pick’ your computer locks. Change your passwords often.

Step 4 – Keep Your Programs and Windows Current

If you don’t install current operating system (Windows) or applications (like Microsoft Office) patches, then your computer is at risk. Configure your computer for automatic updates of the operating system.

Check with the vendor of your software for updates (some programs have an ‘update’ choice on their ‘Help’ menu). Check for updates on a regular basis. The Windows XP Service Patch 2 is especially important to install.

Step 5 – Practice ‘Safe Computing’

Most viruses try to enter your computer via a program attached to an email message. They will often appear to come from people or places you know. Never open an attachment that you didn’t expect to receive. If you get an expected attachment, use the “Save” function to save it to your “My Documents” or other folder. That lets your anti-virus software (which you are keeping current, right?) check the file for a virus.

Be very careful about using file sharing programs, or instant messaging. Viruses and computer ‘worms’ often arrive via those programs. If you must use file sharing programs, be very careful about the folders that you share. If you are not careful, you can easily share everything on your computer.

Watch out for “phishing” — attempts to trick you into sending out your confidential information. Never respond to an email that asks for credit card or banking or personal information, even if the message looks authentic.

Be careful about installing a program on your computer, especially downloaded programs, or programs access via a pop-up box while ‘surfing the net’. Consider using an ‘anti-spyware’ program at home (see above). Use this type of program to remove any spyware that might be on your computer.

Your Next Step

Yes, there is a sixth step of our five-step Safe Computing Program.

At work, ask your computer support staff for the proper protection of your work computer.

At home, you should start your protection at the Microsoft Security web site (www.microsoft.com/protect). You’ll find information on firewalls, virus protections, and Windows updates, and more.

Following the recommendations there will help ensure that your computer is safe from attacks and damage.

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