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Old 04-11-12, 03:05
Old_John_McKenna Old_John_McKenna is offline
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Exclamation **Basic Security Concepts For Beginners**

For anyone new to computing, the whole concept of computer security can be a little daunting. This tutorial aims to cover some of the basic concepts of computer security which should keep you and your family safe online. Consider your computer's security as a multi-layered approach with each layer performing an important function in your computer's overall security. Throw in a large dose of common sense and some regular updating habits and your computer should remain infection free and safe to use online. The following is a list of 10 potential layers you should consider:

1. Keep your Operating System Updated.

Probably the most important of all. Microsoft regularly release security updates or "patches" which plug newly found vulnerabilities in your Operating System. As such, it's vital to regularly check for and install updates from Microsoft. Windows can be configured to do this for you or you can decide when and how to download them by reading the following Microsoft article:

2. Install Antivirus Software with "Real-Time" Protection.

Ensure you have a comprehensive antivirus program installed. Most automatically update with the latest virus definitions and have "real-time" protection. By real-time I mean they scan all the files you open and download from the internet (including emails) in real time as apposed to scanning at a "user actioned" later date (on-demand scanning). The purpose of real-time protection is to stop a virus in it's tracks before it actually reaches your computer. Once installed, you can schedule the software to perform regular full system scans periodically.

There are plenty to choose from, both licensed and freeware. Some of the most popular free antivirus software includes:

Licensed programs tend to offer more features than the free versions but which ever route you prefer, please ensure you only have one antivirus program installed as more than one will lead to software conflicts and computer instability issues.

3. Use Firewall Software

A firewall decides what information reaches your computer from the internet. As most people connect to the internet via a router (supplied by their Internet Service Provider), most will already have a built-in hardware firewall which stops hackers from directly accessing your computer from the internet. However, if you manage to pick up an infection from somewhere or inadvertently install malicious programs bundled with other software, the hardware firewall won't stop the malware "phoning home".

Windows XP comes with a built-in firewall but only blocks incoming traffic much like a hardware firewall so isn't really up to the job. Vista and Windows 7/8 have vastly improved firewalls offering 2 way protection but they still don't offer the functionality and features of many software firewalls. A software firewall should offer incoming and outgoing filtering, application and file system monitoring, notifications and the ability to "stealth" your computer (making it appear invisible online).

Be aware that a firewall is often included as a package with some antivirus software these days or part of an "Internet Security Suite" but if you have a standalone antivirus product such as those mentioned above, you'll want a seperate software firewall. There are plenty to choose from, both licensed and freeware. Some of the most popular free firewalls include:

How much interaction you have with the firewall is entirely down to yourself as they operate in several user defined modes such as Automatic (working on pre-defined rules based on known program information) or Learning mode (where you'll receive more notifications and input as to what is allowed or blocked). Just remember to only have one software firewall installed as several will undoubtedly cause conflicts and performance issues.

4. Keep Your Software Updated

The criminals who make malicious programs don't just target Operating System vulnerabilities. They also target security holes in your software. The most common examples are your installations of Java, Adobe, web browsers and media players.

But isn't all this updating a pain in the backside? I hear you ask?....It was but not anymore. You can now do a simple scan of your software online with the Personal Software Inspector. Simply run the Inspector and it will scan your computer for outdated versions of software and provide a direct link to the new version ready for download. Run the Inspector once a month and you'll be well covered.

5. Use Anti-Malware / Anti-Spyware Programs

While some antivirus software also includes general malware and spyware detection, the programs which specifically target these malicious programs are best used for an additional layer of protection. There are plenty of free programs available which work seemlessly beside your antivirus software.

Some of the most popular programs at this present time include:

The licensed upgrades to these programs provide a few extra features for your money such as "Real-Time" protection and automatic updates.

6. Backup Your Data

If your computer is used to store some of your most important and private files, it's essential you make regular backups. Family photos, banking information and business documents could be lost forever in a computer crash caused by a security breach or hard drive failure. To avoid this, backups should be made to a secure location such as a burnable DVD/CD, external backup drive or another computer. Here is a list of backup software you can use:

7. Protect Your Passwords

Believe it or not, the most common password people use is "password" (without quotes).

The top ten according to IT Security Consultant Mark Burnett are as follows:

  • password
  • 123456
  • 12345678
  • 1234
  • qwerty
  • 12345
  • dragon
  • pussy
  • baseball
  • football

If you currently use any of these then maybe it's time for a rethink. I showed my 11 yr old this list and he admitted to having 3 of the Top 10 amongst his online accounts. With so many passwords to remember these days, I know it's easy to have just a few but it's VITAL that you protect your passwords and ensure your identities aren't stolen, bank accounts aren't emptied and all manner of other personal information isn't compromised.

If you keep hard copies (paper) of your passwords, make sure to put them in a secure place and follow these recommendations:

  • Use passwords that have at least eight characters and include numbers or symbols along with a mixture of upper and lower case letters.
  • Don't use your personal information such as initials, important dates, login names or adjacent keys on the keyboard as passwords.
  • Consider changing your passwords regularly.
  • Never use the same password for each online account that you access.

Tip: Seriously consider using a password manager program. There are plenty available such as the excellent Roboform (licensed) which you can google for a review but the outstanding free version of LastPass will be fine for most. The software/online vault requires you to remember one "master" password and then offers to generate extremely secure random passwords with a mixture of upper/lower case letters, numbers and symbols. Truely outstanding freeware to protect your passwords.

8. Use Limited/Standard User Accounts (without Admin Priviledges)

This is definately worth considering if your kids share your computer. Computers these days allow you to create multiple user accounts so each user has a unique profile with a personalised Desktop and My Documents folder. If you create a limited, non-administrator account and let the kids use that for day-to-day browsing it will help prevent accidental downloads of programs which may contain unwanted software, viruses and spyware. Believe me, there's nothing more frustrating that having your pride and online joy infected by the kids failing to read the pre-installation license agreement for "smiley" packages or the latest films downloaded through file sharing software (the latter being one of the easiest ways to infect your computer from unknown download sources).

Again, peace of mind costs nothing!

9. Use your Common Sense!!

Think before you click somewhere and remember the following:

  • Do not open email attachments from strangers and unknown sources. Opening spam or junk email ( especially unknown attachments ) risks a virus infection that could cripple your computer, damage your files or steal your personal information.
  • If in doubt, double check with known contacts who send you attachments you're not expecting. What sometimes appears legitimate may well be a spoofed email address or compromised computer attempting to infect others!
  • Be careful what you download. Make sure that you only download software from trusted websites. Avoid file sharing and crackz sites which are riddled with malware.
  • Read EULA's (End User License Agreements) for software you're about to install. Free toolbars and other junk often comes with free software.
  • Use a credit card or pre-paid debit card for online purchases. If you get stung, it's either the credit card company's money or a small amount of your own cash pre-loaded onto the card for a specific purchase. Expensive purchases should ALWAYS be made with a credit card where possible.
  • Google for reviews about online retailers you've never used before. You might think twice about purchasing from them if you read enough horror stories.
  • If you receive popups or warning windows declaring your computer is infected or has critical errors (which are not generated by your installed security programs), DO NOT click the links to download their supposed software remedy as they're likely to be malicious websites trying to scam you!!
  • If someone phones you and says your computer is infected, please remember....Nobody EVER calls to say your computer is infected unless they're trying to obtain your debit/credit card details!!!

10. If you've learnt something here, teach your kids!!

Your computer is only as safe as the next person using it and they might lack the basic security concepts covered in this short tutorial.

For a great tutorial aimed at teens, have a look at Microsoft's Own Your Space--Keep Yourself and Your Stuff Safe Online" Digital Book for Teens by Linda McCarthy.

If you have any questions about this tutorial or about Security matters in gerneral, please start a new thread in the forum and we'll be happy to help. Thanks for reading.

Last edited by John-McKenna; 09-12-16 at 16:42.
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