You can have all have anti-virus software installed in Windows, UAC enabled, UEFI battening down the system boot, anti-malware and double firewalls; in theory, all your software should be perfectly secure. However, the weakest link in all computer security remains: the user.
You might think all was secure the day you un-boxed your machine; as Mr Cole Porter said, ain’t necessarily so. Yes, there’s a stack of what I call ‘housekeeping’ around your software; don’t ignore it, and don’t go turning off the software up-daters that keep everything abreast of the latest threats.
Your front lines of defence:
- Keep your firewall turned ON and up to date. This is your first line of defence against attack over the Internet. And forget the Windows XP firewall; swap it out for a robust third party firewall product. There are plenty of reliable free ones
- Keep your anti-virus software updated; don’t disable the updates, or the virus definitions will be frozen in aspic and you will miss any new threat detection that becomes available
- Install Anti-Spyware Software. If your anti-virus doesn’t have an option for spyware and malware, acquire one third-party
- Run Windows Update. Turn on Windows Update and leave it on; Microsoft puts out updates on a monthly basis (‘Patch Tuesday’). You can choose which ones to apply, but if it ain’t on, how you gonna know what’s available?
- Update your applications software. Certain applications like the Adobe Acrobat Reader have a reputation for getting periodically hacked. Make sure to regularly check for general and security updates for the software you use. Acrobat will update itself will patches and fixes, sometimes entire new versions. Most applications will dial home and do the same. For those that don’t, you can find these on the manufacturers’ websites.
- Use a secure Internet browser. The latest versions of Firefox, Internet Explorer, Chromium and Safari are designed with protected modes to stop the majority of automated attacks. For example, in Windows 7, the protected mode in Internet Explorer denies any software running in the browser access to the rest of the operating system. The browsers will also get automatic updates.
- Get spam and phishing filtering for your email software. There are plenty of third party plugins that will scan for known threats; fake Paypal, Ebay, Nigerian Generals, Credit Card service calls and the like. Once you’ve got a phishing filter, don’t abandon your commons sense, this is an aid, not a bullet-proof cloak. See more on phishing in Part II.
Make sure you keep them ALL up to date. Some might require you to reboot the machine occasionally, but what’s a little inconvenience compared with peace of mind?
Make backups. Make sure you keep regular backups of your data somewhere away from your device; external USB hard drives, for instance. Windows has a built-in backup utility (which is much improved in Windows 7), but third-party packages offer backup solutions, too. Consider the Cloud for backing up – but just remember that isn’t always as secure as we’d want – as certain celebrity photo-snappers recently found out.
In Part II, we’ll look at some further measures to take to secure the weakest link behind the keyboard – you. AJS