Online security remains a genuine issue for nearly anyone connected to the Internet. Maintaining that security should be a major concern, especially as more and more financial transactions are being done online.
There are a number of steps and best practices that go along with being a savvy computer user. Making sure you are familiar with them, and making them part of your daily routine, will minimize the chances you'll encounter a major security problem in the future.
Secure passwords – It's a long standing computer security protocol that passwords need to be secure. Although most home users don't need the high levels of password security demanded by the military and large corporations, there are a few simple steps you can take to reduce the chances your password will be stolen or hacked.
One of the most common ways is to use a mix of letters and numbers. Many Web sites require a mix to become a member of a group, for example, but it's a good policy to put this into place for all your accounts.
It's also a good idea to use multiple numbers and letters that are familiar to you, but not easily guessed by someone else. Birth dates are a common choice, but it's more secure to choose the birthday of someone other than yourself you can easily remember, and then mix letters with that choice.
It's also a good practice to use separate passwords for sensitive accounts that involve financial data, such as bank or credit card accounts, PayPal or others. In doing that your financial accounts are protected should one of your e-mail or other accounts be compromised.
It's also a bad idea to store a list of passwords on your computer that can be easily found. If you do choose to store passwords, make sure the file you use is encrypted with a password itself, such as can be done with a program like Microsoft Word. A simple text document containing all your passwords is an open invitation for your information to be compromised.
It's also a good idea to make sure the firewall on your computer is engaged. Every Windows XP and Vista computer comes with a built-in firewall – make sure it is turned on. If you have a home network using a router, it contains one or more firewalls which add additional layers of protection.
It's also a must to have current and up-to-date anti-virus protection. AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition (http://free.grisoft.com) and Avast! Home Edition (www.avast.com) are both full-power anti-virus programs which can be downloaded and added to your computer at no charge.
It's also important to add another level of protection for trojans and password-stealing programs. My favorite free choice is Spybot Search & Destroy, which can be downloaded from various sites around the Web. While Spybot has to be updated and run manually to be effective, it remains one of the best tools for finding spyware that may have been loaded onto your computer.
Other common best practices include being sure that your e-mail is being scanned for viruses, and not opening unknown .exe or .scr files from strangers or friends, no matter how well you may know someone.
Users of Windows XP and Windows Vista also have access to the free Windows Defender, which helps keep spyware and adware off your computer. You can download it via Microsoft.com or other popular download sites.
Tom Meek is a computer and media consultant working with businesses and individuals on high-tech needs. Another Day In Cyberville is published weekly in print and online via The Gainesville Voice, a weekly publication of The New York Times Regional Newspaper Group. You can reach Tom Meek at firstname.lastname@example.org.