IN DEPTH: BEGINNER'S GUIDE TO COMPUTER SECURITY
How safe is your computer?
CBC News Online | Feb. 18, 2005
SAFE PRACTICES | »TOP TIPS
Safe practices checklist
The five top tips are tools to help protect your computer. They won't be much help if you reply to spam e-mail or use weak passwords. Even with a fully updated anti-virus program and firewall, an intruder with your passwords can gain access to your system.
Here are some safe practices to layer your defence against online threats.
"Computers have passwords, and passwords are the keys to the kingdom. With this access they (intruders) could do anything you could and if motivated, even more."
Ryan Purita, security consultant.
- Use unique passwords that you can remember. Use at least eight characters and include numbers and symbols. Make it difficult for programs that are specially written to crack your password.
Don't use words you can find in the dictionary, or obvious things like the name of your child, your pet's name or your month of birth. Use a password that is easy to remember, so you don't have to write it down
A 2003 Symantec survey of 700 Canadians found one out of every four respondents use family or pet's name as a password. Sixty-nine per cent memorized their passwords, but 24 per cent wrote their passwords down.
- Be cautious with e-mail. Don't open e-mails and attachments from an unknown source. Make sure your e-mail program isn't set to automatically download attachments. Report spam to your internet service provider.
Watch those virus warnings passed on by well-intentioned friends and family. It might be a hoax perpetuated by chain-letters. Verify the information with trusted sources. Rosaleen Citron, CEO of security firm White Hat Inc., recommends Sans.org and Anti-Phishing.org.
- Scan downloaded files. Even if you've made sure that the file is from a trusted source, always scan for viruses before opening it.
|AOL Canada March 2004 study
Of 2000 Canadians surveyed:|
· 89 per cent reported they were
using anti-virus protection.
· 56 per cent were using firewall protection.
·42 per cent had spam filtering.
· 35 applied anti-pop-up software.
· 6 per cent indicated they were not using any of the above.
- Watch for unsecured shares: Turn off software features you don't use such as printer sharing and file sharing. These are available for easy access between computers on a network. This ability to share files can be used to infect your computer with a virus or allow an intruder to look at the files on your computer.
If you do have file sharing turned on, know what programs are using it. If you need to share files between computers, Ryan Purita, a security consultant, suggests that users set passwords to accounts and give only those accounts access: "Never share your entire drive; rather, share folders which contain the files you want to share. Do not expose shares to the internet. Always use a firewall -- it will prevent anyone from accessing your computer via shares."
- Secure your browser. Turn off features that allow automatic downloads, and turn on your browser's built-in security features. Get a blocker to stop those pop-up banners, and don't click on links in those pop-ups. Tod Maffin, CBC's technology columnist, points out most people don't read what's in the pop-ups before accepting them.
Hackers often target popular browsers such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer so
you might want to consider using alternative web browsers such as Firefox or
Opera, suggests Maffin. There's no guarantee your computer will be safe, but you can avoid those
threats designed especially for Internet Explorer.
If you do use Internet Explorer, change the internet options default setting so that
IE has to ask your permission before downloading files or running ActiveX
Controls, which are mini-programs often exploited by hackers.
- Make backups of important files onto separate disks. If your computer does become infected, you'll have a clean copy of your files.
- Turn your computer off or disconnect from the network between uses. Disconnecting your computer from the internet when you're not online, or shutting down the computer, lessens the chance that an intruder will be able to access your system.
Following the top tips and safe practices should minimize your computer's exposure to online risks. But what if you think your computer's already been infected? What steps should you take?|
Read some of our experts' advice.
NEXT: PROTECT YOUR PERSONAL INFORMATION