Ten basic steps to secure your PC and online accounts

Ten basic steps to secure your PC and online accounts

Summary: The explosion of malware attacks and high-profile password and data breaches serve as confirmation that resourceful hackers are determined to break into your computer and online accounts. It's time to pay attention to these issues and follow some basic steps to stay secure while using your PC and surfing the web.

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  • Encrypt your Web traffic

    We all check e-mails or Facebook status updates in coffee shops or on public WiFi networks.  It's important to invest in a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your activity and keep private data out of the hands of malicious hackers. This video explains all you need to know about the value of VPNs and how to set it up to authenticate and encrypt your web sessions.  If you use public computers, consider using a portable VPN application that can run off a USB drive.

  • Social networks can be too social

    Popular social networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are happy hunting grounds for cyber-criminals.  Use common sense when sharing data, even if you think you are in a trusted environment. Do not post anything sensitive or overly revealing because your privacy is never guaranteed.  Pay special attention to the security features and try to avoid clicking on strange video or links to news items that can lead to social engineering attacks.

  • Patch, patch, patch

    Hackers rely on security vulnerabilities as entry points into your machine.  It's important to stay on top of security patches and enable automatic updates on every piece of software where it's available. Use Windows Automatic Updates to ensure operating system patches are applied in a timely manner.  In addition, Use a reputable anti-malware product and make sure it's always fully updated.  Don't forget about security patches for third-party software products (Secunia CSI can help with this).  When installing software, go slowly and look carefully at pre-checked boxes that may add unwanted crap to your machine.  One last thing:  Go through your control panel and uninstall software that you don't or won't use.

Topics: Security, Windows, Social Enterprise

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18 comments
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  • good list but

    Most attacks recently are on the companies' servers themselves. Nothing you can do about that.

    Just hope the company is using a decent salted hash and use a total gibberish password. If they are storing in clear text or using saltless md5 or some such nonsense, you're done.
    wendellgee2
    • Agreed

      You can try your best to secure all your data, use best practices, etc., only to find one of the 49 companies with access to your SSN, DOB, and current contact information was hacked. This doesn't mean you shouldn't try, but much of your "personal" data is well beyond your control.
      bmgoodman
      • Gives you an extra warm and fuzzy feeling

        about cloud dependence, doesn't it?

        Bombs away.
        klumper
  • Encryption for home computers?

    Encryption of home computers is just asking to lose all your data. Probably not true of many ZDNet readers, but users who can barely right-click just aren't going to be able to handle encryption, *especially* WHEN something goes wrong. On consumer laptops, encryption is a *definite maybe*. :D
    bmgoodman
  • Good list, but.....

    In many cases, Java is needed for many applications that run cross platform, so Java for me is a necessary evil.
    linux for me
    • Necessary evils

      Exactly true. Same with Flash, sad to say. There's no easy way around them when accessing the Internet.
      klumper
      • Necessary evils

        With Firefox, there are add-ons that block flash and script. They can, by default block all, but one click will approve the ones you want to run. In other words, nothing runs without your approval.
        Hans Schmidt
  • more useless advice

    Gee, another story from a journalist who knows more about nothing than he does about it.
    richphx
  • Chrome is the most secure?

    I could swear I've always heard that Firefox was the most secure browser for Windows. I also read a TechRebublic article recently that claimed that Internet Explorer was better at warning uses about unsafe websites than Chrome.
    dgoodale
  • I'm a big fan of SMS based second code ID

    Unfortunately, Google's approach makes non-browser apps vastly more difficult to use, including - ironically - Android devices.

    So pass on that.
    The Werewolf!
  • Barking at the moon

    Until password managers are easier to use you might as well bark at the moon - 95% of users won't be able or willing to manage them.

    Until their is a protocol in place that allows password managers to interface with desktop apps, mobile apps, and websites in a reliable and uniform way only techies will use password managers.

    I'm currently switching from Keypass to Lastpass. I like Lastpass's mobile features. I have 35 years computer experience. Lastpass is great but I've had to jump through numerous hoops to get it to work across the various sites and apps I use. For example Lastpass can't always find the login name and password fields on a site. No problem, just jump into Firebug, find the correct id's, and teach Lastpass a lesson. No problem ... if you're a techie. If not, Lastpass just became a useless misnomer.

    The vast majority of users are not techies. They don't know what Firebug is, what markup is, or what id's are. And hard though it may be for techies to believe, they don't want to know.

    Until password managers "Just Work" and always work, all the admonitions of security experts to use them amounts to little more than barking at the moon.
    mars@...
  • Barking at the moon

    You are a 100% correct. I started in 1979, Main Frames and micro computers and the average user does not want to know. No matter times I try to show and explain, it is lost. Computers are just tools, nothing more, nothing less. Some people are tool users and most are not. We now have a situation where most people have to use a tool. Example: my ex wife is a brilliant woman, straight A in the University, a teacher and speaks several languages as a native. She can almost inhale a language in a few short weeks. To this day, she is afraid of computers and can not use one, nor can she drive a nail with a hammer. When computers are powerful enough to be interfaced voice & video as in a robot, will we come close to resolving the problem. Looking around, we can see even then the problem will never be completely solved
    taxes28@...
  • I love Step 9

    "Use common sense.." and "Pay special attention to the security features..."

    Problem solved.
    bb_apptix
  • Common sense stuff

    The majority of this article is pretty much common sense. Don't use plug-ins that you don't need, be careful what you click on in Facebook/Twitter/whatever, keep your operating systems up to date, and backup your important files regularly. These are things that we (hopefully) do as a matter of course. The ones that don't are either virus harvesting, or clearly don't deserve the computers that they digitally torture...

    Things like two-phase verification, password managers, and installing Firefox or Chrome (I'm a Firefox man), are intermediary steps. It is better for us to have such things, but only the really security conscious would use all three.

    VPNs and data encryption are only for the greatest security needs (basically for corporate types, managers, and the like). Public WiFi is inherently insecure, but only a fool would use it to check their accounts, their email or their Facebook without any security like this.
    dmh_paul
  • Send an email to myself - each time I sign on.

    This feature would tell me if my account was being accessed by someone other than myself.

    Example:
    If I have been on my email account for an hour and I receive this 'Signed On' email - saying that I went on line - I would know the email account is being watched by someone else.
    Donald.Nagy@...
  • Nice...

    Good article.

    For antivcirus protection, I recommend Adware Remover:

    https://www.cleverbridge.com/661/cookie?affiliate=23666&redirectto=http%3a%2f%2fwww.adware-remover.com%2f&product=71943
    orbasoft
  • Two important steps to secure your PC and online accounts

    Nice article, and I like the fact that you mention VPN’s but even more that you mentioned 2FA. People need to be implementing some form of 2FA were you can telesign into your account and have the security knowing you are protected if your password were to be stolen. This should be a prerequisite to any system that wants to promote itself as being secure. With this if they were to try to use the “stolen” password and don’t have your phone nor are on the computer, smartphone or tablet you have designated trusted, they would not be able to enter the account.
    Branden_B
  • Slight issue with title

    "Ten basic steps to..."

    Basic for whom? If it's basic for Techie-types, then you're insulting their intelligence a little at points. If it's basic for Joe Donuts, you're giving him far too much credit in places.
    mountjl