I have an idea for a New Year’s resolution this year. You’ll still be able to eat what you want and walk by the bathroom scale with no pangs of guilt, and you can leave your mess in the garage and the junk drawer so full you can barely open it.
Make your computing safer in 2008. This is a lot easier than you think. You’ll be protecting yourself against potentially painful experiences such as credit card fraud and identity theft.
Follow these steps. In some cases, I’ll link you back to tips I’ve written in the past couple of years.
1. Protect your computers with a firewall. You might have a firewall already and not know it – your DSL or Cable modem may have a firewall built-in. Look on the label to see what kind of device you have. Log in to your Internet provider’s web site and check whether your modem has a built-in firewall. If it doesn’t, ask to be upgraded.
You can also install a personal firewall program on each PC in your house. If you have Windows XP or Vista, a firewall is provided with Windows but you need to activate it.
Or, you can install Zone Alarm or Comodo firewall. Both are easy to install and use.
2. Get the spyware out and keep it out. Spyware is used to snoop on your PC and Internet usage – most people find it offensive and a violation of their privacy. Install one or more of the following anti-spyware programs. Scan your computer now, then scan monthly after that.
3. Keep your PC’s security patches up to date. Failure to install security patches is a major cause of computer break-ins, especially for home computers, most of which are not protected by firewalls. I recommend you take a look at your Windows Automatic Updates setting and change the settings so that security patches are downloaded and installed automatically (if you are more of a “hands on” computer user, then you should set Automatic Updates to automatically download security patches and then inform / ask you to install them).
Install patches now (www.update.microsoft.com) (you must use Microsoft Internet Explorer for this)
4. Make separate user accounts for shared computers. If any of your computers are shared among family members, make separate user accounts for each user. Put passwords on each account and do not share your passwords. Make only one account an “administrator” (you – since you are reading this!) and make all other users a “Limited account”. Turn off the Guest account.
When a family member is done with the computer (even for a minute), get everyone into the habit of locking the screen, which requires a password to unlock. Click here for instructions.
5. Change your Wireless network to WPA. I have written in the past about how the old wireless WEP protocol is no longer safe. You need to upgrade your WiFi access point and the computers in your house that use WiFi from WEP to WPA. The WEP protocol that is still the default on most WiFi access points and routers can be easily broken by any clever computer user with a few simple tools.
Instructions: upgrade your router and computers from WEP to WPA.
6. Clean out your old programs. Take some time to remove old programs that you no longer use, and upgrade the programs and plug-ins you do use to current versions. In Windows XP, go to My Computer > Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs (in Vista it’s slightly different) and remove each program you no longer need. Maybe you have old toolbars and other things you tried out but didn’t like. It’s a good idea to just get rid of them here.
Consider getting a copy of Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI). This nifty program will look at all of your installed programs and tell you which ones are old and unsecure. PSI will also tell you what patches are needed on your system.
Get PSI here: psi.secunia.com
7. Learn more about safe computing. Order a copy of Computer Viruses for Dummies – this is a smaller-format Dummies book that talks about Viruses and also spam, spyware, firewalls, and other steps you need to take to make your computer safer.