Security Tips - Keep Your Computer Safe

These are some of the basic steps home users should be doing in order to help protect their computers and personal information.  Please keep in mind that no solution is fool-proof.  These steps however should help you keep your computer safes from most of the issues out there (hackers, malware, viruses, etc).

Key Steps  

  1. Be Cautious.  While a lot of web-sites are safe to visit, a large number are unsafe.  Be cautious when visiting sites and handing over your information.  This goes for emailing information as well.
  2. Run Anti-Virus Software... and keep it updated.  Most AV software has an auto-update feature.  Make sure you set this to auto-update daily.
  3. Run a software Firewall.  This software allows you to see and block unwanted connections to and from your computer.  ZoneAlarm and COMODO are both good examples.  Make sure logging is enabled.
  4. Use different passwords for different web-sites.  If a hacker somehow gets your login / password to a site they may try the same combination at other sites as well.  For this reason you should have different passwords.  You should also use passwords that are at least 8 characters long and have special characters in them such as ! and $.  Using special characters will make it harder for someone to "crack" your password.
  5. Install Anti-Spyware software.  This software typically goes above and beyond anti-virus in that it also looks for spyware on your machine.  Ad-Aware is a good free option.
  6. Install McAfee SiteAdvisor.  This is a really good (and free) software that alerts you if you are going to visit a web-site that has been known to harbor viruses, Trojan Horses, spammers, etc.  This software can even tell you information about web-sites including what past users have said about them.
  7. Update your Web-Browser.  A lot of people wonder if Firefox or Internet Explorer is safer.  While that debate will go on forever, the key is to keeping whichever one you use up-to-date.  In your browser go to "Help", CHECK FOR UPDATES.
  8. Update your OS (Operating System).  Similar to the question about which browser is "safer"... the key is to keep whichever OS your run up-to-date.
  9. Encrypt your data.   If your laptop ever gets stolen you don't want them to be able to access your personal information.  For that reason you should use a data encryption software such as PGP Desktop, TrueCrypt (free) or Cryptainer (free).  These softwares are easier to install and run then you probably realize.
  10. Secure your Wireless Network.  One thing you should do is only allow your laptop to access it.  You should also use the highest level of encryption available, and not broadcast your SSID.
  11. Be smart.  Remember that no one gives things away for free.  This goes for people in Nigeria who supposedly want to send you $25Million, to people you've never heard of offering you nude pictures of Angelina Jolie.  Odds are you will get anything but a virus on your computer, or even worse, con-artists coming after you.
  12. Go Through this Checklist Once a Month.  Staying diligent about security takes time and energy.  At the same time, all it takes is one click to lose all of your personal information online.  It is worth it to always be wary.

If your computer has been hacked feel free to contact us to discuss how we can help.


FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions):
Q: Is there a place I can find out if an email is a hoax?
A: One of the best web-sites for this is Snopes.  They have a fairly extensive library of real and hoax information including spammed emails. 

Q: How safe is "Cracked" software.
A: Cracked software is typically software that comes with a "cracked" license.  This means someone has been able to trick the software into thinking it has been paid for.  Unfortunately this software usually comes with malware including viruses, trojan horses, and ad software.  You should never install cracked software. 

Q: Can my employers monitor my email and web-usage? 
A: The answer is "it depends."  You should read your employee handbook to see if it says anything about computer monitoring.  Nowadays more and more companies are putting in language which allows them to do so in order to protect themselves.  When at your office, or using a work computer at home, you should act as if you they are monitoring your usage to be on the safe side.  Harvard published a very good article about this issue.  Harvard Business Review .  

Q: Is it safe to use a public computer (library, hotel, school, Kinko's)?
A: Yes and No.  You should never use a public computer to check your email, make an online purchase, or viisit a site that requires your username and password.  It is extremely easy for anyone to install "keylogger" software which can capture your data which they can use later.  See this article in the USA Today about a case involving Kinko's.  On the other hand, it is relatively safe to use these computers if you are simply viewing web-sites and not inputting any information, such as going to to read the news.

Q: My computer is having problems.  Should I trust a company like GeekSquad, Circuit City, etc?
A: While companies like this probably screen their employees, it is safer if you watch them to be sure.  There is a blog on PC World that claims they caught an employee from Geek Squad taking data off of their computer.  You can read the blog site here. PC World.

Q: I did everything mentioned above, is my computer safe?
A: Unfortunately a computer that goes online can never be 100% safe.  Following a security plan however will greatly reduce the risks associated with web usage.  

Disclaimer: Everything on this site is for informational purposes only.  All software packages should be installed only after they have been tested.  You should contact a security professional prior to installing any security software or following any security advice.  We do not offer any guarantee or warranty on any software noted on this site, nor guarantee any of the information provided. 


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