You can expect your computer to be attacked within 60 seconds of connecting to the Internet, every time. That’s a pretty scary figure. So what can you do to protect your computer and the information stored on it?

1. Update your software

The first step is to keep your software updated. You should pay special attention to your Operating System and your security software. If you use Windows, it has the Automatic Update feature that you can access in the Control Panel and set it to automatically update your computer as necessary. This is absolutely the best choice. More often than not, when Operating Systems are released, it isn’t long before a vulnerability or back door is found that allows a virus or other malware to get in. These are quickly patched by the manufacturer and if you have Automatic Updates on, you won’t have to worry about hunting for these patches.

2. Anti Virus Software

You should always have anti-virus protection installed on your computer. Symantec and McAfee are the most popular and are very good programs. They, also, have a setting to automatically update the software. These programs are designed to protect against and eliminate computer viruses and are very important to have. If at all possible, they should be installed before connecting to the Internet and updated immediately once connected.

Two other software programs you should invest in an adware program and a spyware program. These programs protect you from malware and other non-virus like activity on your computer such as tracking mechanisms and pop up advertisements. Some antivirus packages include this type of software but may not be as thorough as programs such as AdAware SE and Spybot Search and Destroy as these are dedicated to specific forms of malware.

3. Setup Firewall

You should also put a firewall in place. There are two types of these: hardware and software. Windows comes with a built in firewall. You’ll want to make sure it is turned on before you connect to the Internet. A firewall helps block hackers, viruses and worms that try to infiltrate your computer while you’re connected to the Internet. If you have more than one computer on your network, you’ll want a hardware firewall such as a router to help protect against your network being attacked.

4. Beware what you download

Pay close attention to software programs that you download and install on your computer. If you didn’t set out to install it, if you don’t know and understand exactly what it is you are installing, if it isn’t from a reputable source, then you’re better off not installing it. You can take the name of the application and go to google and do a search on it to see what comes up. This is probably the best way to review the software and find out if it is harmful.

5. Use strong passwords

Use strong passwords on all sites you register for. Strong passwords typically contain an uppercase letter, a lowercase letter, a number and/or special character. Many sites are even putting utilities in place to show you if your chosen password is strong or not. This will help protect you against sniffers and hackers that use special programs to try to break your password.

6. Use caution in opening emails

The best practice is if you can’t identify the person or business it came from and you weren’t expecting it, don’t even open it. For example, if you get an email from someone you don’t know that says “Thanks for the card” in the subject line, think about whether or not you’ve recently sent someone a card. If you haven’t, then you know that this isn’t a legitimate email and while it may just be an advertisement, it could also be a virus. So it’s best not to open it and to just delete it immediately. Many people naturally have curious minds and when they get these emails they want to see what they are about. But curiosity isn’t worth losing your computer. Is it?

Now there are emails being sent out that may appear to be from banks and they may something like there are problems with your online account. So they will ask you to click on a link and log into your account to fix the issue. These are phishing emails. They are fishing for your login information. Always remember, if a bank has a problem with your account, they’ll call you. There are also software programs such as Internet Security utilizes that will verify that a website is legit before you enter any personal information.

7. Protect your privacy

Don’t put your full name out there. Every day we hear about child predators finding young kids by talking to them online. Protect your identity, use screen names, don’t post your address or phone number in public places. Remember that Identity Theft is on the rise and it’s not real hard to pull off. Don’t help them.

8. Be cautious when using file sharing

Use caution when using file sharing programs such as Kazaa, Bearshare, and LimeWire. I use LimeWire to download music files. I’m not saying these are bad programs to use. But you should really make sure you understand what you’re doing as many of these programs are common pathways for viruses to attack. When you install these programs, they ask you what folder you want to share. You want to make sure that you create a specific folder to share data out of rather than just clicking next and allowing the whole world access to all of your data.

9. Backup your data

Last but not least, back up your data. Prevention is better than the cure. It doesn’t matter how tight your security is, you could still catch a virus. Viruses are written to get passed the anti-virus software, it’s a constant competition between the two. Anything is possible and when the unimaginable happens, you will be able to rest assured that you have all of your important data backed up so you don’t lose anything. Norton sells a good back-up utility.

These are the steps I follow to keep my computers secure. I’ve had 1 computer virus in 10 years and I got it from installing a file I wasn’t sure about. I didn’t trust my instincts. This virus bombarded my computer with pop ups and hijacked my computer totally for about an hour. I quickly formatted my hard drive and completely reinstalled my Operating System and all software. I could do that because my data was backed up on an external hard drive that was not connected to that computer at the time of infection. 1 virus in 10 years is an outstanding number, and it’s really easy to do. I just told you how. Good luck!

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