Safe Computing

Safe Computing

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It's very easy to secure your computer against hackers, viruses, spy ware, and spam. And it's mostly free! Just follow these guidelines:

Install a firewall This stops people connecting to your computer over your Internet connection. More importantly, it stops any programs installed on your computer connecting to the Internet unless you give it permission. You can download a free firewall from ZoneLabs. Windows XP has a built-in firewall, but it only stops incoming connections.

Install Anti-Virus software This stops viruses getting onto your computer, and also stops you accidentally sending viruses to other people. You can download free anti-virus software from GriSoft. Once installed, keep the software up-to-date with the latest virus definitions or it can quickly become useless.

Windows Update Keep your Windows operating system bug free and up-to-date to stop new viruses or worms getting into your computer. Either regularly (at least once a week) visit the Windows Update web site or enable automatic updates (see this page for more information).

Passwords For your Windows login password and all other passwords, e.g. your email password, choose a password that contains letters, numbers, and at least one punctuation character. For example, mic_567. See this page for more information.

Spyware When surfing the Internet, or installing some free software, your computer may get infected with Spyware. Spyware is not a virus, but instead it reports on your surfing habits. This helps marketing companies target you with their junk email (spam). You can remove all spyware by installing Ad-Aware or Spybot S & D (both are free).

Email attachments The majority of viruses are transmitted via email as attachments. So, never, ever, ever open any email attachments unless you know the person and know that they are sending you the file. Remember that you will receive viruses from people you know because the virus will use your address book. So just because an email comes from someone you know does not mean that it is virus free.

Backup files You will lose important files on your computer, either by accident or hardware failure. The only way to avoid such a disaster is to backup your important files regularly. You can backup your files using this sites free SyncBack program. It is also a good idea to backup your entire hard drive (or partition) with commercial software such as Norton Ghost. Remember to store the backup on another computer or on removable media, e.g. CD, DVD, tape, external hard drive, etc.

Pop-ups A number of web sites use pop-ups, those annoying small windows of adverts. Although they are safe, they are annoying. Stop them appearing in Internet Explorer by using the free Google Toolbar. Browsers such as Mozilla have built-in pop-up stoppers.

Spam Although generally not a security issue, spam (unsolicited junk email) can be extremely annoying. You can avoid receiving spam by making sure your email address is not public knowledge. For example, if you post to newsgroups then use a mangled email address, e.g. In your signature tell people to remove the 'nospam.' part of your email address before replying. If you are already receiving spam then use a spam filter such as SpamNet (for Microsoft Outlook). Never reply to spam. Just delete it. See this site for more information on stopping spam.

Update Software Keep your software up-to-date. For example, make sure you keep your anti-virus and spyware removal software definitions current so that they can stop new viruses and spyware.

Microsoft Software The vast majority of viruses take advantage of the fact that most people use Windows and Microsoft software such as Internet Explorer, Word, Outlook, and Outlook Express. If you use a different web browser, e.g. Mozilla Firebird, a different email and news program, e.g. Mozilla Thunderbird, and different office software, e.g. the free OpenOffice package, then your chances of getting a virus are reduced (and you save money).

Installations You should only install software from sources you trust, i.e. purchased software. Don't install something downloaded from a P2P network or something someone sent you via email. If you are still paranoid and want to see what changes a program is making to your system when it is installed you can use a free utility such as InstallSpy.
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