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Good Practices for a Secure Home Computer

At work, many of us have an Information Technology colleague to make sure our computers are kept up to date and safe from malicious attackers. Unless you are fortunate enough to know an IT person outside of your workplace, you may not know what to do to keep your home computer secure.

Most home computer users are left to their own devices when it comes to trying to make sure their computer system is safe. After you have read through this course, you will have picked up a few helpful hints to help make your home computer safer.

Who are the bad guys?

Wouldn't it be great if all of the bad guys had the words, "BAD GUY!" tattooed on their forehead? The same can be said about bad computer software. However, just as in real life, you cannot always tell the good from the bad from the outside. Bad software comes in many forms, but the most common form is a computer virus. These are small computer programs that either by themselves, or in concert with other viruses, do bad things to computers. Sometimes, they only slow down the computer by making copies of themselves. Similar to a benign tumor, it gets bigger over time, but does not really hurt the person.

Other viruses may copy themselves and send those copies to other computers. Like the common cold, they spread through contact. While usually not lethal, they do make you feel bad for a while. When these viruses invade your computer, they may not destroy data, but often slow it down so much that you have to reload the software to alleviate the problem.

There are also malignant viruses. These are the Ebola of the computer virus realm. While the rarest form, they are also the most destructive. Not only do they spread from computer to computer, but they also destroy files and can damage hardware.

In the world of computers, viruses are not the only thing to worry about. Worms, Trojans, and spyware are additional malicious programs. They may spread via different methods and can be used to spy on the user's information or habits.

Other bad guys!

The other bad guys are the hackers. These are individuals who either want access to the information on your computer, or who want to use your computer's processing power for their own purposes. The first group is known as information thieves, and the latter group is commonly called hackers. Both of these groups use specially crafted programs to trick your computer into letting them have the information they desire.

So how do they trick the computer?

That is another, more advanced lesson, but they essentially lie to your computer, making it think that they are a trusted person. They then convince your computer to run their programs instead of yours.

How do I protect myself?

Well, the easiest way is to follow these basic steps:

  • Update all of the software on your computer on a regular basis. Windows has an automatic update feature that should be turned on. This will automatically load and install any new updates to Microsoft software.
  • Install a good antivirus and anti-spyware program, and regularly update them. Just as some people have to get a flu shot each year to keep up with the latest version of the flu, your computer needs periodic updates to keep up with the latest viruses. It is highly recommend that software be set to check for new updates daily!
  • Install and use firewalls on your computer and your communications equipment. If you are using Microsoft's Windows XP, it comes with a built-in firewall. If you are not sure how to enable your firewall, consult the user manual, and see the complementary courseware within this Training, Education and Awareness Module related to home firewalls.
  • Do not download programs from the Internet without being certain you really want the program, and that you trust the company or person from which it originates. Always ensure that your antivirus program is working and up-to-date before downloading any files. Parents should pay special attention to what kids download since many of the games and files available for kids contain spyware that should be avoided.
  • Stay away from websites that seem suspicious. Just as there are parts of town that you do not go near after dark, there are parts of the Internet to be avoided. If you must visit one of these sites, disable both JavaScript and Java in your web browser before doing so. If you do not know how to disable these, you may want to avoid visiting dangerous parts of the Internet.
  • Always be aware of changes in your computer. If it suddenly slows down for more than a few seconds, there may be something running in the background. If it happens more than once or twice and does not seem to be related to that new printer you installed, turn it off and take it to a professional for examination.
  • Lastly, when you are not using your computer, turn it off or disconnect it from the network. Unlike the first computers that had sensitive power supplies, today's modern computers are not negatively affected by turning the power off and on. In today's broadband world, many computers stay turned on and connected 24/7. Remember, when you are not using your computer, others from the Internet may be using it. Many malicious programs wait until the keyboard has been silent for ten or more minutes before the program starts running at full speed. The hackers depend on you leaving your computer turned on to be available to them.

Taking these simple steps can help ensure that your computer is safe and healthy.

These helpful tips are provided by Digital Defense, Inc., a computer security company working with your credit union as a responsible member of the community to help insure the privacy and security of our nation's financial information.

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