Home Computer Security

5 12 2011

With all the attention paid to information security by large firms and other businesses these days, it is easy to forget about the easiest targets of all: personal computers.  Businesses today have a lot of pressure on them to protect users’ confidential data from unsavory eyes, but in reality, the biggest threat to users’ information security are the users themselves.  A business can do everything it can to protect sensitive data, but the moment a user is careless and leaves themselves open to attack, all of the protection offered by the business goes to waste.  It is important for users to understand how to properly protect themselves, because even today, there are many people who lack the proper knowledge to recognize when they are putting themselves at risk for an attack.

CERT recommends 9 tasks that users can do in order to secure their home computers. [1]  The simplest way to protect your personal computer from being compromised is to install and use some kind of antivirus program.  It doesn’t have to be the most expensive package on the market, but it should provide a scanning ability and it would also be beneficial if it had a built in firewall to protect against intrusions.  Coupling antivirus with antispyware is another way to improve detection abilities.

In addition to antivirus scanners and a firewall, other ways to protect yourself are to be careful when reading emails and downloading files, which many times comes down to common sense.  Maintaining vigilance when it comes to online navigation is a great way to spot potential trouble.  Up to now, most of what I have described is widely known and practiced by users.  While practicing vigilance online and having antivirus and a firewall can give you a head start, it does not completely protect you from intruders.

Malicious users can go after your identity fairly easily with the amount of information available publicly on the internet.  Personal information should be controlled on social sites such as Facebook, as it makes you an easy target for attackers.  Monitoring who can see your information can help protect you.[2]  With the rise of social media, hackers have been able to improve their password hacking abilities.  Choosing a password with easy to guess personal details such as a loved one’s name or your favorite food can actually be quite easy to guess, costing you valuable personal data.  For many users, this is a common mistake.  It is important to choose a strong password of at least 8 characters that contains both letters and numbers.  This will make it harder for an attack to guess your password and steal your information.

Another item that many users ignore is creating a backup of their data.  Computer data is vulnerable not only to intrusions, but also to environmental factors such as lightning or accidents like spilled water or coffee.  Without a proper backup, your data could be lost forever in the event of an accident or attack.  Choosing a location away from potential accidents and using surge protection can reduce the likelihood of those events, but an attack could still compromise data.[3]  The best practice is to back up all your data to a secure location that will enable easy recovery in the event of a computer failure.

Lastly, the best advice that I can provide is to keep your system up to date and do not ignore the annoying pop ups that tell you to restart your computer.  Often, these updates provide important security updates that can prevent your system from being compromised.  The best way to secure yourself is to be proactive and ensure that you have taken all the necessary steps to best secure your home PC.  Microsoft provides tips online to help further protect your home PC.  They provide more How-to advice as well as a free PC scan and links to software downloads that can help protect your computer.[4]  While it may have been effective so far to only follow some of the guidelines I have mentioned, the best way you can ensure your personal data’s security is to be proactive and stay on top of your personal security.  Don’t wait for an incident to take advantage of you.  Take action now and stop the intruders in their tracks.