Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Web Secret 385: Computer security

Are you sloppy about computer security? Me too, sometimes.

So here is a refresher, courtesy of the Iowa State IT department. (Caveat: some of these recommendations are PC centric, Mac users will have to find their equivalent.)

Here are five easy ways to keep your computer secure:

1. Update, update, update. Don't postpone requested updates. Make sure automatic updates are turned on and note programs that you need to manually update from time to time.

2. Use an anti-virus monitoring program. There are free programs like Avast!. Make sure the anti-virus is installed, turned on and is set to scan the hard drive on a periodic schedule.

3. Scan occasionally for malware programs. Find a malware scanner and use it every few weeks to check for malware left by websites and software on your machine after getting the latest updates for the scanner.

4. Put yourself behind a firewall for protection. A good firewall can be your first line of defense in blocking hackers from getting in and preventing malicious programs from phoning back home. Use the built-in Windows firewall or try a free program like Comodo Firewall.

5. Don't open suspicious web pages, e-mails or files. If it looks fishy, don't open it. If you already opened it, close it right away and run a virus scan.

Bonus tips:

Create good passwords. You've probably heard that you should use lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers and symbols in your passwords. That's all good, but did you also know that the length of a password is more important than the complexity? Passwords get exponentially more difficult to break the longer they are, so strive for 10 or more characters to be safe. You also don't want to have passwords that are words from the dictionary, passwords that are super-easy for you to remember or passwords that don't change from site to site.

Be encrypted. Unless the website you're viewing is encrypting your communications, (you'll notice a padlock in the browser or an address beginning with https,) anyone around you with the right tools can read your password as you send it over the unsecured Wi-Fi network.

Beware of location-sharing services like Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Latitude or Facebook Places. You should be careful who can see your updates and make sure you trust them. If a malicious person could get your updates, they could potentially determine your routine, the location of your house and more just by following the GPS breadcrumbs you leave behind.

Be careful out there.

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