Computer security is a very large and complex topic. If you work in a school environment, for example, much of network security will be out of your hands and not your responsibility. But there are a few basic things, to do your part as an end user, to protect your data from damage, destruction or falling into the wrong hands.
- Password protect your computer. Use a password that is not easily guessed, based on details about your life, such as the names of kids, pet, or dates like your birthday or anniversary, or your own name. Don’t make them “dictionary words,” because hackers have tools where they just try every word in the dictionary until they find which word works. Use combinations of upper and lower case letters and numbers. Change your password on a regular basis. If you forget those sorts of things, set a calendar reminder in your phone for yourself. Don’t leave a written copy of your password in your work area. I have seen teachers put a sticky note on their computer monitor, where any student could see it, then access the computer when they leave the room. When I was in high school, I saw students arrange for my math teacher to be called to the school office, then they got on his computer and changed their grades. They then threatened anyone who told on them with physical violence. I have also seen companies where everyone’s password was their last name. Be smart with your passwords, as they are your first line of defense.
- Use virus protection and keep it up to date. There are downloadable free antivirus software programs, but the commercial programs often come with extra features such as firewalls, encryption capabilities and tools to keep your computer running smoothly. A good place to purchase such programs is iolo. New computer viruses come out every day. Antivirus companies brag by saying things like “We protect you from over 3 million different viruses.” That is because almost every virus that is effective is unique. There are really just a few thousand different ones in existence, but there are tools that smart hackers use to change the look of its code just enough, so that it is no longer recognized by antivirus software. Each time a new virus version gets discovered new “signature” information is added to antivirus database, which goes out with the next software update to keep that particular one from infecting anyone else. Be sure to keep your antivirus software up-to-date and leave the auto-update feature turned on.
- Don’t stick a USB stick in your computer that does not belong to you, because you are curious. It is a common hacker trick, to leave USB drives laying around, containing a virus that activates the moment it is put in a USB slot.
- Don’t open email attachments, even from trusted people, unless you were expecting one. This is one of the most common ways of getting a virus or malware. Many virus and malware programs hijack someone’s address book and send new copies in convincing looking emails, to everyone they know. People fall for it all the time, because they think things like, “He is my boss, he would never send me a virus!” I have seen Fortune 500 companies hacked in this manner. The average amount of time, between a hacker gains full control of a network and when that fact is discovered is 18 months. If you get an unexpected attachment that you can’t tell what it is, just call or email the person and simply ask. Did you just send me this file? Don’t be embarrassed to do so. Because if they don’t know they just sent you a file, they have been hacked. You may have just become a hero that saved a company or a school district.
Even if you think of yourself as a technology novice. Knowing and following this simple advice, which you just read, makes you a smarter and safer computer user than 99.5% of the entire world, including many who work in the technology industry. It is simple information that sent you to the top of the class.
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