Friday, August 24, 2012

6 Common Sense Tips for Keeping your Computer Safe

Every day I hear about someone else who's computer has been infected with a virus, worm, trojan, rootkit, etc. I don't think I need to go through each and every one of those things as the definition probably will not affect your daily safety needs. What you need to know is how use common sense when surfing around the Internet. In this article I will approach a proactive method of computer safety, and I plan on writing a following article which will focus on removing a virus once it has already infected your system.

1. Stay away from the dark side of the Internet

Ok it may sound a little corny, however this is a major factor. If you go into an area of a city that is more well known for its criminal activity (ie dark alley's), your percentage of having something happen to you goes up. Nothing may happen at all that time, but your percentage goes up the more time you spend there. The dark side of the Internet is much worse, because it is created by people who are trying to take advantage of you. These type of sites are riddled full of infections files and codes.

Yep your wondering, what does the dark side of the Internet consist of? Anything that is illegal, shady, and/or contrary to morally acceptable behavior. For some examples, I would strongly suggest staying away from pornography, financial porn (ie Pay Day Loans), gambling sites, gaming sites (Sorry ya'll, gamers are such a mixed crowd and hackers are among them.), pirated software ( cough cough), and lots of so called medical sites (though there are some out there that are very helpful).

2. Only shop at a Website that you know, trust, and/or can find good reviews

This one is a little easier unless you are a die hard surfer. I know shopping is one of the good perks of being on the Internet. You can find things that someone in your culture would never dream of selling. The one thing I have to say is this: stay on shopping sites that have a well known brand. If they have a storefront that you frequent on a regular basis or have a national brand, I wouldn't even worry about it. If they are someone out there in cyberspace that you have never heard of before, do a Google search about them (ie Is a safe shopping website). Other people can tell you a lot about whether a shopping site is safe or not. Here are some safety tips about shopping:

  1. Shop only on a computer that you know is safe (ie your computer at your home). Don't check your bank account or enter credit card information when you are in a public place. Information can be stolen much easier (ie hotels, Starbucks, airports etc).
  2. Watch for the little padlock on shopping websites when you are checking out. These usually show up in the top or your web page next to the website address or in the bottom right hand corner. This indicates that you are safely shopping.
  3. Check and read the return policies on a shopping Website. This can save you a lot of grief if you order an item and you don't like it and need to return it. You can usually find a terms and conditions page with this. It is usually located at the very bottom of a Website.
  4. If you are shopping on, check the reviews of the seller. Have people been pleased with them in the past? How long have they been sellers.

3.  Don't open up emails from senders you don't know

Remember the days when your parents told you not to talk to strangers? Ok, you may be an adult now, but it is still a policy to live by when it comes to your computer. Although there are emails that may have come from your friends computer who was infected with a virus, you can normally stay fairly safe by simply deleting emails from unknown senders.

4. Use a different Internet browser

Everyone is used to using Internet Explorer because that is probably what came with your computer. In general, I would say that Internet Explorer isn't a bad program, however there are lots of hackers out there who have it in for the "Evil Empire" Microsoft. I have the highest respect for Microsoft and their products, but Internet Explorer is the target of many virus creators. I would suggest you start using something like Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome. Firefox is probably more secure, but they are both exceptional browsers. Google Chrome has a sleeker, simpler design and is nicer for the computer illiterate surfer. To Download simply click on the links below:

5. Have a good Anti-Malware program installed on your computer

This is probably the more well known method of security. I am going to take a slightly different approach to this.  Many people feel that paying for an anti-virus program such as Norton, AVG, Kaspersky (shiver), or any other program is going to keep them the most safe. It is my belief that if you have been following the previous methods of safety, that you do not need to pay for this. Most of these programs are resource hogs and they slow your computer down. They are overkill and honestly I don't think they work any better than some free programs. Norton was hacked a few months ago. Hows that for security?

I would advise downloading Microsoft Security Essentials. This program is lightweight and its security updates come with Windows Update, which means that it works organically in your system. Next what I would do is download the free version of Malwarebytes. This program is a backup program that doesn't run in the background, but it is there in case you suspect that you may be infected. The reason I mention that is because you never want to run two antivirus programs at the same time. It doesn't make you more secure, it only slows your computer down. Whereas the free version of Malwarebytes only runs when you tell it to. You can download the programs below:

6. Keep your computer up to date

To some this may seem obvious, but every modern PC computer is able to receive updates from Microsoft using a program called Windows Update. It comes preinstalled on your computer. You can find it by clicking on the start menu, then by clicking all programs. You will see it in your list of options. If you will make it a habit to frequently let Microsoft update your computer, many of the commonly known security holes will be fixed before you even have a chance to get infected. 


In Conclusion

Some of you may have been looking for new and improved tips, but I hope that you stopped at the title realizing this is "Common Sense" before reading further. My hope was not to bring you the latest and greatest, but to help cultivate the idea that perhaps security isn't just about great expensive programs, but about the everyday choices we make while in cyberspace.

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