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Be Aware of the Risks
The latest "Security Intelligence Report" from Microsoft indicates a significant overall reduction of threats, especially in well-developed nations... which is great news, however it doesn't mean we are completely safe. There are countless numbers of black-hat hackers still creating new bugs to infect your system, and infinite numbers of existing viruses already out in the cyber-world that can self replicate and adapt to new coding environments.
If your computer is compromised, you risk not only identity or monetary theft, but also decreased performance of your computer. If your computer seems to be going slower than it used to, it is likely you have been infected. There are even viruses out there that can completely disable your computer to where it will never work again.
Things you can do to keep your computer safe:
- Keep your firewall on.
- Keep your Windows O/S up-to-date.
- Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and keep it up to date.
A firewall is like a gatekeeper to your computer. It inspects any data coming in or going out of your computer and checks to make sure that it is authorized. If it detects anything unusual or known to be bad, it will block it. You need to make sure your firewall is both running, and configured properly, or it isn't going to do its job the way it should and will leave your computer "naked". It is tempting to set your firewall to "Allow" everything to avoid having to give permission all the time, but for the sake of convenience you risk compromising your system. It is better to train your firewall correctly, so it knows what is allowed and it will block everything else until you give it permission. The only time you should drop your firewall is for troubleshooting purposes. Remember to turn it back on when you are done!
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Stay Up to Date
Keeping your Windows up to date is very important, as it will install patches to fix any security vulnerabilities in the O/S. Updates are much simpler to do now, than they were years ago, especially if you have broadband Internet. It is as easy as making sure that Automatic Updates is enabled, and Windows will download and install updates in the background as you work. Only rarely do any of these updates require you to reboot your computer, and they will create a backup restore point before they install, so if there is a problem, you can revert to a known "good" configuration and uninstall the update without effecting any of your data. If you have a dial up connection, just go to http://update.microsoft.com to manually install them. This process is also simplified, allowing you to select to install only priority updates, which are automatically detected. Windows Vista has a ton of built in security measures, including Firewall, Anti-Spyware scanning, etc., which will take out 99% of the guesswork in configuring your "security system".
If you have uninstalled your antivirus (AV) software because its subscription ran out, you need to get a current version. Many of the major brands only cost about $30.00 for a one year subscription, or there are several free antivirus programs available from reputable companies, or ask your ISP (Internet Service Provider) if they provide AV protection with your plan. Many of them do now. It is crucial to have AV software installed, running, and up-to-date, because as I said... there are new viruses coming out all the time, and they not only self-replicate, but adapt. A good AV software program will download new virus definitions on a daily basis and will do a better job of blocking them.