Internet Security Cookbook
Learn safe online habits.
Your most important defense from computer viruses and other malware is YOU. Never click on suspicious links in websites. Do not open files attached to email (especially with extensions like .zip, .bat, .exe). Don't download free software or music from websites unless you are sure they are reliable. In addition to using anti-virus software and using the Windows firewall, use Firefox browser with these addons: NoScript, Cook Monster, BetterPrivacy, LinkExtend. Better yet, use a non-Windows computer system like Linux or Mac - they are much less vulnerable to online malware.
Set up basic computer security.
Before going online, make sure your web browser, firewall, and anti-malware software are updated to the latest version. Running monthly scans with
online scanners is also a good idea.
Keep your operating system and other software patched.
Windows computers have the "Windows Update" service built in. You may set it to update automatically, but I prefer to have it inform me when updates are available so I can download and install them at a convenient time. Also keep all your online applications (web browser, office software, Email software, media players) updated regularly using
Secunia's free Personal Software Inspector
(download page). This software checks all your installed applications to see if they need updating - and then provides the links and downloads to update them.
Make backup copies of your operating system and personal files.
Everyone should have at least one full system backup of your computer system when it was new and working perfectly. You can puchase online backup solutions, backup to an external hard drive, or backup to data DVDs you store off-site. If you use your computer for a business, you might want to use all three.
Protect your online accounts.
Create a bookmark for your online banking site and only use this bookmark. Never click on email or web links - a favorite way for
phishing attacks to mislead you. Never logon to accounts from an open WiFi connection in a hotel or cafe as these are not secure. (VPN services will enable you to use these securely.) Avoid automatic billings or any account that stores payment information - always better to enter your payment information for each purchase. Get a separate credit card with a low credit limit for online purchases (cancel the card at the first sign of trouble).
Use good passwords.
For financial accounts you should use a long string using letters and numbers. Use a different password for each account. If you have more accounts than you can easily remember, use the
LastPass Password Manager (download page) to securely store and provide your passwords online - you need to remember just one password. (Firefox addon "LastPass" fills login forms)
Teach your kids safe practices.
Safety practices should be used with cell phones, text messaging, social networks, and other online portals. Set up home computers in family areas of your home to see what your kids are doing online. They face special risks from predators who count on their inexperience. Software such as SpectorSoft's Spector Pro (download page) can monitor chat conversations, Web sites, and other online activity.
Know what to do before problems happen.
If your e-mail or online account suddenly shows changes that you did not make, be sure to email, phone or visit the Web site immediately to reset your password and restore your information.
If your computer suddenly starts acting unusual, first scan your system with an antivirus. Then use one or more
free online scanners. If these tools find a problem it cannot fix, you may need to restore your system using a backup copy of your operating system and personal files. As a last resort, you may need to completely reinstall the operating system and restore your personal files afterwards. (Restoring from a full system backup is always easier.)
Know where to go for help.
Keep a few good bookmarks for good information about malware and repairing infected computer systems. Users of Windows computers can contact
Microsoft support toll-free at 1-866-PC-SAFETY (1-866-727-2338) for help cleaning a system infected with malware. Keep the phone number of a good computer repair service for those emergencies when you just don't have time to fix it yourself.