Security for your PC & Online Activities

On and Offline Security

Password protect your ComputerYour home computer(s) contain vast amounts of information about you and your family members. In all likelihood, your home computer has highly sensitive information sitting on your hard drive such as Inland Revenue tax returns, monthly financial records and bank and credit card account numbers. In addition, your computer probably contains family and other photos that have sentimental value or a music/movie collection you accumulated over a long period of time.

No doubt you want to protect all these files, folders, music and movies from online attacks, email scams and unintentional downloads of damaging spyware, adware and viruses.

Make sure you keep your software up to date and patched with all the latest updates. Thankfully, most of these updates are more or less automatic for the likes of anti virus programs, Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8.

Install software updates as they become available so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. This is particularly important for the Internet Browser that you use to surf the web. Each new update generally tightens your online security.

Security software: anti-virus, anti-spyware and a firewall, or a complete security suite that includes all three, will give you the best level of all round protection.

Keep your PC Secure with Passwords

Strong passwords and other security features can also add useful layers of protection if used appropriately.

If your PC is open to general view you may want to start by password protecting it to prevent casual access.

Try not to keep any important passwords on your computers hard drive. Keep them on a separate flash drive and perhaps even password protect that portable device for better security.

Strong passwords are a major defence and developing good password practices will help you to keep sensitive personal information much more secure.

Below are some suggestions for developing more resilient passwords that are far harder to crack:

  • Passwords should have at the very least 10 to 15 characters and include both upper case (capital letters) and lowercase letters, numerals and symbols.
  • Avoid common words as some hackers use programs that try every word in the dictionary.
  • Don’t use personal information such as your name, your children’s name(s), your dogs name, telephone numbers or birth dates etc. that someone might already know or easily obtain.
  • Try to change all your passwords often, at least every 90 days or so. Use a free or paid password manager to keep control and if you believe your computer system has been compromised change all your passwords immediately.
  • Use different passwords for each online account you access (or at least a variety of similar, but different passwords).
  • If you must write down passwords, under no circumstances should you store them in a document on your computer. Keep them in a secure location away from your computer, perhaps on a portable flash drive.

See our random password generator tool to see how you can develop your own strong passwords.

Many people leave their computers running and connected to the Internet 24/7. This is a dream scenario for criminals who want to install malicious software on your machine and then control it remotely to commit cyber crimes, such as spamming and phishing. To be extra safe, switch off your computer when you are not using it.

Beware of Email Scams

Email is a favourite tool of online criminals. Email costs virtually nothing to send and can be blasted out to millions of potential victims at once. One of the most common email fraud techniques is called "phishing."

In a typical phishing scam, an email is forged to look like an official message from a real-world bank or e-commerce company. The message directs victims to a fake Web page, where they are prompted to provide their account information.

By mimicking the email and websites of popular banks and e-commerce companies these scams can easily fool people who have existing relationships with those companies.

To stay safe from these phishing attacks never reveal personal or financial information in any email that you send, and do not respond to emails that ask you to supply this information. If you receive an email that asks for any personal information do not click any of the hyperlinks.

In fact you must never send sensitive information over the Internet before checking a website's security.

Pay attention to the URL of a website. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a slightly different domain name.

If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly using a telephone number or site link you have in the records you already hold for this particular company.

Always remember that legitimate businesses will never solicit this type of personal information through email.

Scams and Other Problems

Use your junk email filters. These are your best bet to avoid getting scam email in the first place. At QBS PC Help we use Mailwasher which is a spam detection and mail preview tool that allows you to check the mail on your email server and delete any spam before you download it to your local computer. It can notify you when new mail arrives and automatically mark suspicious messages, so you can preview and delete them. We suggest that you Download Mailwasher for Free and fight the ever growing threat from email scams and phishing attacks.

Information about known phishing attacks is also available online from groups such as the Anti-Phishing Working Group.

Be Safe when shopping Online

If you are buying things online credit cards are generally the safest option because they allow you to seek a refund from the supplier if the product isn't delivered or isn't what was ordered.

Also, unlike debit cards, credit cards may have a limit on the monetary amount you will be responsible for paying if your information is stolen and used by someone else.

Don’t forget to review the company's return policies so you can be confident that if you do have to return goods, there will not be any difficulties.

Print and save records of your online transactions, including the product description, price, online receipt, terms of the sale and copies of any email exchange with the seller.

Read your credit card statements as soon as you get them to make sure there are no unauthorised charges. If there is a discrepancy, report this to your credit card company immediately.

In a rush to complete an online transaction it is tempting to just create a simple password that you will not forget.

However, its always good practice to create more complex but easily remembered passwords (or, if your memory is not too good, just put all your passwords on a flash drive so you can always locate them easily). Also, see our random password generator tool to see how you can develop your own strong passwords.

Increasingly, online service providers are implementing new tools to create secure access to accounts. Some even involve additional levels of authentication.

Security for Social Networking sites

Online social networks have sprung up for business, hobbies and schools. Used properly, they are a unique communications tool to keep in touch with friends and colleagues. But like any online tools, social networking sites can be abused by fraudsters and other unscrupulous people. It's important to protect yourself by following a few important steps.

Be careful what you put online. When you put a photo, or video or written account online, it stays for a very long time and a lot of people can see it. Many employers routinely check social networking sites as part of the hiring process. Criminals use the sites to trawl for personal information they can use. Don't put anything up that you might regret. This includes compromising photos and videos, and especially any sensitive personal data.

You also need to be careful about the information you give away about yourself online. For example, be careful about giving away too much information on blog's and social networking sites like MySpace, FaceBook and Linkden etc. Identity thieves can piece together your identity from public information piece by piece like putting together a jigsaw.

Protect your privacy. Most social networking services offer extensive privacy options. You can use these settings to prevent anyone you do not know from viewing your personal information. Think about the information you have online, and who you want seeing it; set your privacy levels accordingly.

Be careful about meeting your social networking 'friends' in person. It's not easy to tell who a person is from a photograph and a few lines of text. If you do decide to meet in person think about doing so in a very public place, during the day - never at night.

Be very involved with your children's social networking. Children are big users of social networking services and face the greatest risks. Child predators, exploitation and "cyber-bullying" present serious risks to our young people.

If you decide to let them use social networking tools, limit their use, insist on seeing their profile and interactions regularly and make sure you personally know all of their online 'friends'. Be aware that some kids host "dummy" pages for their parents' benefit, keeping their "real" pages secret. Consider insisting that your child only use social networking tools in common areas like your living room.

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