Some antivirus programs are less perfect than others, especially Microsoft Security Essentials. If you rely just on your antivirus to protect you, you are actually putting yourself at risk. In addition to your antivirus, you also need to still follow common sense computer security practices.
It can be difficult to make a full list of every little tip and all the best geek practices and then implement them on a daily basis. This article tries to list some of the key security practices that you should consistently use.
#1 Always use an antivirus
Even when you are careful, you should always be using an antivirus. You might be surprised to find out that you can still become infected with a browser plugin like Adobe Flash, your web browser, or zero day vulnerability to name just a few. Even when you ensure your browser is up to date, you can become infected by a new vulnerability just by going to a website/web page.
#2 Uninstall Java
Most internet users are running an outdated version of Java making it very easy for an infection to occur just by visiting a website. Java has experienced an unacceptable level of security holes. The saddest thing about it all is that these days Java applets are actually very rare on the web that the need to even have Java installed is very rare.
If Java is installed on your computer, you can uninstall Java from your Control Panel. If you need Java you will be prompted to reinstall it, but it’s highly unlikely that you will need it. If you do need Java installed, disabling the Java browser plug in will protect you.
#3 Leave Windows Firewall enabled and make sure it is properly configured
You don’t have to install a third-party firewall because Windows already has one, so make sure you leave it enabled. The firewall will block unsolicited incoming connections, and protect Windows and other software that’s on your computer from malware.
Make sure that you configure your firewall correctly — when it asks you whether you are on a Public, Home, or Work network, be sure that you choose the proper answer. If you choose the Home option when you are actually connected to Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop, your laptop could share some of your Windows files with others in the coffee shop’s network. On the other hand, if you choose the Public option it will prevent others from being able to access shared resources.
#4 Leave UAC Enabled
When Microsoft introduced User Account Control on Windows Vista, it was loathsome; however, it’s much less intrusive in Windows 7 and Windows 8.
You will see the worst side of it when you set up a new computer and when you install your software, but once you have it all set, it will leave you alone and will seldom bug you. UAC helps prevent malicious software from being able to modify your system without permission. Just as antivirus is a layer of protection, so is UAC.
#5 Make sure your software is updated – automatic is best
The software we use tends to be riddled with all kinds of security issues. In fact, new security issues continue to be found all the time. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Windows, Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Adobe’s PDF Reader, the Adobe Flash plugin — the list goes on. No software is exempt from risk.
Software companies release security patches for software on a regular basis. The trouble is that far too often the release notes that came with the patches provide attackers with information that actually helps them create attacks for unprotected or unpatched machines. It’s important that you install these software updates immediately when they become available.
To do this, leave Windows Update set to automatically update — or at least set it to alert you to new updates and install them quickly. Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Adobe Flash, and Adobe Reader all have automatic-update features — leave them enabled so you’ll always have the latest version without having to worry.
#6 Use caution with any programs you download and run
Be cautious about what programs you decide to download and run on your computer system. Download software from the official website. Also be sure to look out for ad banners that are disguised as download links that can trick you into downloading malicious software.
You should know that there are many different kinds of programs, such as screen savers, that have the potential to contain malware harmful to your computer. There are more than 50 extensions that are dangerous to your computer.
#7 Don’t use cracked or pirated software
When you get cracked/pirated software from a peer-to-peer network or other types of shady websites, you subject yourself to risk. The cracks that often have to be run in order for the software to work right are created by software-cracking groups. You can’t tell if they have added malware to their hack or not.
When you download unauthorized software it has a much higher risk than pirated music or videos, because software includes a great deal of machine code that has the potential to be tampered, whereas a video is simply a media file designed for play.
#8 Beware of phishing and social engineering
Your browsers always work to minimize your exposure to phishing attacks, but they do not completely eliminate the risk. A phishing attack on the internet is like someone calling your phone, saying they are your credit card company and asking for your credit card number.
You always need to be careful about giving your personal information to anyone. To access your bank or credit card company’s website, you should always go directly there – never click links in emails claiming to be from your bank, because these are fake – your bank doesn’t reach out this way.
#9 Never reuse passwords
Reusing passwords is a big problem. When you use a password repetitively at different sites, a password leak at one site means your username, email address, and password are out there.
Sadly, the number of password leaks occurring is growing increasingly – it’s becoming a significant problem, and it needs to be brought to everyone’s attention. If you are using a unique password everywhere, you will never have to worry about this kind of leak occurring.
There are many different password managers on the market that can help make it easier to manager unique passwords.
#10 Make sure your passwords are secure
Password managers not only help you manage passwords but also choose secure combinations that are long enough and contain the right amount of numbers, letters, and symbols. The majority of people use passwords that are far too simple. It should be clear that letters-only passwords are not secure enough.
There is no perfect list of computer security practices, so there’s likely some key tips not on this list, but it’s still a great place to start.