Network, computer and data security has been a hot topic of late with significant press column inches dedicated to keeping us informed of newly exploited software vulnerabilities and shaming large corporations whose network security policies have been compromised resulting in the theft of thousands of customers’ records.
Whilst many attacks of this nature are very sophisticated, aimed at wealthy companies or large organisations and designed to achieve a specific goal or purpose, it is important to remember that there are malicious cyber criminals out there who are committed to compromising your personal computer, accessing the information stored upon it, or using your computer to mount further attacks on other computers.
It is very easy to let the basic principles of PC security slide – I’m sure at some point we have all been guilty of using the same password for more than one website or service, or not installing the latest security patches because it was time consuming. However as a result of the recent publicity that data security and cyber-attacks have received, I thought it was a timely opportunity to remind ourselves of five of the basic computer security principles we should be adhering to at home:
Your passwords should be reasonably complex (A mixture of upper case and lower case letters, numbers and special characters such as punctuation marks). Your password should not contain your name, or any other identifier that would be easy to guess.
Never use the same password for more than one website, service or computer...if your password to one of these is compromised then the others are compromised also. It’s like using the same PIN number for all of your debit / credit cards!
Never write down your password and leave it near your computer! You wouldn’t leave your front-door key outside your house would you?!
If you use an operating system that is currently supported (such as Windows 7 & 8), then make sure you install the latest security patches on a regular basis. Patches are designed to fix security vulnerabilities found in the software that you have installed on your computer. Installing these lessens the risk of your computer being compromised (although do be aware that on occasion Microsoft do release ‘fixes’ that do not appear to have been fully tested and can lead to interesting side-effects…but we haven’t really got a choice but to install them have we?)
Patches for Java particularly and Adobe products should also be installed as soon as possible after you receive the notification that they are available. Java can pose a significant security risk if not regularly updated.
Not necessarily a big fancy box of tricks with lots of flashing lights and many cables hanging out of it, but simply switching on the ‘Windows Firewall’ that comes as standard with the Microsoft Windows Operating System can significantly increase the security of your computer.
There are literally dozens of antivirus products in the marketplace and many of them are free so there really is no excuse not to deploy one! Performing a web search for ‘Free antivirus’ will yield a bag full of results. If I was on commission I’d be suggesting Sophos or Bit Defender. But I’m not.
Microsoft Security Essentials – although not the best AV on the market – does come with an anti-spyware capability.
If you don’t recognise the sender, don’t open it.
If you do recognise the sender, open it with caution! Their email account may have been compromised and could be used to send you nasty things. So be sure of an attachment before you open it…
So there we go. Basic PC security in five easy and more importantly, free, ways…