1. Use anti-virus software.
Most viruses enter a computer hidden in a seemingly innocent program,
often as an attachment to an email. Then the virus software code attached
to the program produces copies of itself and inserts the copied code
into other programs. A virus can result in lost data or require costly
repairs to your system. You can avoid these risks by installing and
using software that scans your computer and your incoming email for
viruses, and then deletes them.
You can download anti-virus software from
the websites of software companies or buy it in retail stores. Look
for anti-virus software that recognizes current viruses, as well as
older ones; that can effectively reverse the damage; and that updates
2. Regularly update anti-virus software.
To be effective, anti-virus software must be updated routinely with
antidotes to the latest "bugs" circulating through the Internet.
Most commercial anti-virus software includes a feature to download updates
automatically when you are on the Internet.
3. Install a firewall.
A firewall is software or hardware designed to block hackers from accessing
your computer. A properly configured firewall masks your IP address,
making it tougher for hackers to locate your computer. Firewalls are
designed to prevent hackers from getting into your programs and files.
A firewall is different from anti-virus
protection: Anti-virus software scans your incoming communications and
files for troublesome files; a firewall helps make you invisible on
the Internet and blocks all communications from unauthorized sources.
Some recently-released operating system
software and some hardware devices come with a built-in firewall. It
may be shipped in the "off" mode. Make sure you turn it on
and set it up properly. Check your on-line "Help" feature
for specifics. If your operating system doesn't include a firewall,
buy a separate software firewall that runs in the background while you
work, or install a hardware firewall - an external device that includes
firewall software. Like anti-virus software, a firewall needs to be
updated regularly to be effective.
Some firewalls block outgoing information
as well as incoming files. That stops hackers from planting programs
- called spyware - that cause your computer to send out your personal
information without your approval.
4. Don't fall for a fibbing email.
Most viruses won't damage your computer unless you open the email attachment
that includes the virus. So hackers often lie to get you to open the
attachments. The email may appear to come from a friend or colleague,
or it may have an appealing file name, like "Fwd: FUNNY TEXT"
or "As per your request!" It could appear to link to a website
or promise to clean a virus off your computer if you open it. Don't
open an email attachment - even if it appears to be from a friend or
coworker - unless you are expecting it or know what it contains. If
you send an email with an attached file, include a text message explaining
what it is.
In addition, don't forward any email warning
about a new virus. It may be a hoax and could be used to spread a virus.
If you receive a chain letter or hoax virus alert, let the sender know
so they can stop spreading the virus.
5. If your computer is infected, take
If your computer has been hacked or infected by a virus, immediately
unplug the phone or cable line from your machine. Then scan your entire
computer with fully updated anti-virus software and update your firewall.
Before you reconnect to the Internet, think
about how your computer could have been accessed and what you could
have done to avoid it. Did you open an email attachment and let loose
a virus? Did a hacker bypass your outdated firewall? Take steps to minimize
the chances of it happening again.
6. Use strong passwords.
Hackers may try to steal your passwords to gain access to the personal
information stored on your computer. To make it tougher for them, use
passwords that have at least eight characters and include numerals or
symbols. Avoid common words: some hackers use programs that can try
every word in the dictionary. Don't use your personal information, your
login name or adjacent keys on the keyboard as passwords.
Don't share your passwords online or over
the phone. Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) should never ask for
7. Take advantage of your software's
Chances are your web browser and operating system software give you
some options for increasing your online security. Check the "Tools"
or "Options" menus for built-in security features. You probably
have several choices for what types of files you want to accept from
other computers. If you don't understand your choices, check them out
using your "Help" function.
Similarly, your email software may give
you the ability to filter certain types of messages, such as some unsolicited
bulk email, or spam. But it's up to you to activate the filter.
8. Turn off software features that you
You may want to turn "off" some software features - instant
messaging, printer-sharing or file-sharing - that typically are "on"
when a computer is shipped. File-sharing allows several computers (connected
through a network) to use the same file at the same time. Because it
facilitates the passing of information between computers, this feature
is an excellent point of entry for hackers. A firewall won't block files
sent to you this way. If you're not on a network, turn the file-sharing
feature "off." Your operating system's "Help" feature
will show you how.
Another software feature that could leave
you exposed to a virus is an email preview pane that lets you view attachments
automatically. The preview pane could allow a virus to be launched even
if you never click on the attachment.
And if you're not using your computer for
an extended period, you can turn it off or unplug it from the phone
or cable line. When it's off, the computer doesn't send or receive information
from the Internet and isn't vulnerable to hackers.
9. Back up important files.
If you follow these tips, you'll reduce the chances of falling victim
to a hacker or virus. But no system is completely secure. If you have
important files stored on your computer, copy them onto a removable
disc, and store them in a safe place.
10. Report serious incidents.
If you think you've been hacked or infected by a virus, email a report
of the incident to your Internet provider and the hacker's provider
(if you can tell what it is). Often the ISP's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org
or email@example.com. By doing this, you let the ISP know about
the problem on their system and help them plan for the future. Include
information on the incident from your firewall's log file