Internet Self-Defense: Basic Best Practices

  1. Run the most up-to-date operating system possible. If you’re using a Mac, get the latest version. If you’re on Windows, get set up on Windows 7. New systems have many security fixes built-in and the developers really do learn from their past mistakes. The only good reason for running an older system is if you need a program that will not run on the new version. But do you really need it? Is there an update available?
  2. “Least Privilege.” Do your daily tasks as a “normal” or “limited” user. This keeps nasty programs from making changes or installing themselves without your taking action to allow them. It’s worth taking the time to lock down your system and open access to what’s needed.
  3. Update Adobe Flash, Adobe Reader, and Java on a regular basis. Once a week is a good plan. Much of the crap that can infect your system comes through these programming frameworks.
  4. Turn on automatic updates. Run a manual system update (like Microsoft Update) every now and then to make sure it’s working properly.
  5. Don’t open e-mail from people you don’t know or aren’t expecting. Don’t open unexpected attachments from people you DO know. You would cry if I told you how much money I make from people who just HAVE to see the dancing kitty movie…
  6. Run antivirus and keep it up to date. For home users I like Microsoft Security Essentials, AVG, Avast, and ZoneAlarm Extreme Security. I set businesses up with eset NOD32, VIPRE, and Trend Micro. Rembmer that it’s just one layer of defense. I have seen viruses, malware, and crap get through every antivirus system. Yup, every single one.
  7. Install anti-malware, like Spybot search & destroy or Malwarebytes’ Antimalware. Update and scan every week or so.
  8. Windows XP users should run an additional “program guard” like Spybot Search & Destroy TeaTimer, or Tall Emu’s Online Armor to prevent programs running and installing themselves without warning.
  9. Consider perimeter defense. There are content-blocking services that you can set up to prevent your systems from visiting web sites with nasty things. These lists are always a step behind but are better than nothing. Many firewalls also have an extra layer of virus scanning capabilities.
  10. Use different passwords for different accounts. If someone hacks your Facebook account they shouldn’t also get access to your online banking, PayPal, ebay, and credit card, should they? I recommend a password manager like RoboForm to keep them straight.
  11. If something seems wrong, looks funny, or your system is acting strange. STOP. Call for help. Do not go to any sites that need a password. Do not go to your bank, facebook, or e-mail.
  12. Lie when you answer “security questions.” How hard do you think it is to find your mother’s maiden name, name of the street you grew up on, where you met your spouse, etc? Come up with different answers to these questions, keep them in your locked file cabinet (or RoboForm) to keep your challenge questions safe.

These are general guidelines for home and light business use. Next time I’ll discuss small business online banking in greater detail.

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