Archive for April, 2012

How to Protect Your PC Against a Virus

Computer viruses are crippling on any PC. A well-designed virus can have a devastating effect on a company or the person who downloads it, leading to billions of dollars in damages if it spreads far enough.

Viruses can be very hard to contain and can infect millions of computers in a single day, thus illustrating how connected (and vulnerable!) the world wide web has made each and every one of us.

Types of Computer Viruses

There are multiple types of viruses that can interfere with your computer security. Some of the most common viruses that you may encounter include:

  • Email viruses – these are a specialized form of computer virus that comes attached to an email. It can then mail itself to everyone in your address book. You may not even have to open the attachment to become infected by the virus, as some are designed to start infiltrating your computer’s security as soon as the infected message is read.
  • Trojan horses – this is a computer program that claims to perform one task but instead employs alternative actions resulting in damage to your computer or your files. It cannot replicate on its own and requires you to download and run it.
  • Viruses – this is a small piece of software that sneaks in along with another program, such as a spreadsheet. When the real program runs, then virus also runs, giving it the chance to do the damage it was programmed to do or reproduce and spread.
  • Worms – worms are a type of software that looks for security holes in computer networks, spreading from one computer to another if they have the same security hole. It can copy itself and then spread from the new computer to the next.

Where Viruses Come From

The term ‘computer virus’ comes from the fact that it spreads in a similar fashion to the biological variety. They can be passed from one computer to another much like the common cold virus is passed from one person to another. A virus cannot reproduce itself. A computer virus must come in on another program or document in order to be able to affect your computer.

People write computer viruses, test them, and then release them. The reasons why can vary. Some people get a thrill out of being destructive, much in how vandals destroy someone else’s property. Others like the thrill of watching things blow up; such as those who make their own bombs or who enjoy watching car wrecks. And others do it simply for the bragging rights, and see the creation of a virus as a challenge that must be met before someone else beats you to it. Most of the virus creators do not seem to realize or care about the people who are harmed by their creations.

The History and Evolution of Computer Viruses

Computer viruses first started to come out in the late 1980s, as the personal computer started to become more widely used. At this time computer bulletin boards were also becoming popular, allowing people to download different programs like games and simple software. This started the creation of the Trojan horse, a hostile program.

The earliest viruses were small, and were attached to popular games and programs. When the person ran the program, the virus would load itself, modifying additional programs to include its code, and then launched the real program. The user often didn’t even realize that the virus had run itself, and would spread it from one computer to the next when they shared programs and viruses. From there the virus would enter an attack phase, where they would do something destructive like cause your computer screen to light up with a silly message or erasing all of your data.

As computers evolved, so did viruses. As floppy disks fell out of favor, virus creators learned new tricks for spreading them. This led to the creation of email viruses, which were spread through email attachments and worms, which could copy themselves from one machine to another by taking advantage of a security hole.

Protecting Your Computer from Viruses

There are several ways that you can protect your computer’s security from viruses and other malware. A secure operating system is often the front line. Further to this method, you should install virus protection software to help prevent viruses from making their way onto your computer. You should also avoid downloads from unknown sources, as well as install computer updates on a regular basis. The more conscious you are of computer viruses, the easier it will be to protect yourself from them!

 

How to Use Data Encryption to Secure Your Computer Files

Data encryption is an important means of protecting your computer files. Essentially, encryption converts data into a form that prevents unauthorized people from accessing it. To decode encrypted data you use decryption technology to turn the encrypted data back into the original form.

History of Data Encryption

While data encryption and computer safety may be relatively new, data encryption on its own is not. Encryption and decryption have been used nearly as long as communication. For instance, in times of war communication transmissions were often written in a cipher to keep the enemy from discovering the orders of the troops.

Ciphers come in many forms, from switching around letters and numbers, to alternating letters with other ones, to even scrambling signals by using other frequencies. Some will even utilize complex algorithms to rearrange the information so that it cannot be deciphered by the enemy.

Once an encrypted signal has been sent out, the recipient has to decrypt it to view the data. A key is required to do this, which can be in the form of an algorithm. If someone who doesn’t have the key is trying to decrypt the information, a computer can be used to look for patterns that will allow them to break the cipher. The more complex the algorithm, the harder it is to decode.

Protecting Yourself with Encryption

If you handle any sensitive information on your computer, encryption is a must for you. You can purchase encryption technology that will do the work for you and this will greatly aid in your efforts of halting others from stealing your data.

It is specifically important to use date encryption if you do most of your work via laptop or other portable device. Besides the risks that are associated with transmitting data wirelessly, it is all too easy to have a laptop or other portable device stolen.

If your information is not encrypted on this device, then you have opened the door for the thief to access all of your stored information. Make sure that you store any algorithms or decryption keys in a secure location. Storing that information with the same computer or device that holds the encryption will also make it too easy for others to access the information.

There are two main types of full disk data encryption that you can use. There is the hardware form that is offered by the same company that creates the computer drive, and there is the software version that is sold as an option for laptops and other devices.

Drive-level encryption can be hard to manage, which is why stand alone data encryption software is gaining in popularity. BitLocker, McAfee Endpoint Encryption, and SafeGuard Easy are examples of such programs.

Keep in mind that if you hard drive fails, you’ll have no way to recover your data. Therefore, it is very important that you have a strict backup policy for any encrypted information. You also have to make sure that someone in your company has the ability to access the information even if an employee quits. Therefore, understanding the regulatory issues behind your software is a must.

Encryption prevents one person or transaction from ruining your business. Remember, all it takes is one small piece of confidential information escaping and you could have a disaster on your hands. Data encryption eliminates this possibility and allows you and your clients to feel more secure in your proceedings.

Wireless Communications and Data Encryption

With the advent of the wireless age, data encryption has become more important. Wireless communication is much easier to tap than other types of communication. So, if you are performing any sensitive transaction online, particularly if wireless is involved, you should look into data encryption to protect your information. Remember, the stronger the encryption the more computer safety you will have, but the more cost you will also incur.

The Controversy about Data Encryption

Strong encryption does come with some controversy, however. Strong encryption is any cipher that cannot be broken without the code. While many people view this as a way to keep their computer safe and minimize fraud, some governments are afraid of strong encryption falling into the wrong hands.

For example, terrorists could use strong encryption codes to plan their devious activities directly under the governments’ noses. For that reason, some governments are for setting up a key-escrow arrangement that would require all persons using ciphers to provide the government with the key. The idea would be that the key would be stored in a safe place and only used under court order; however opponents argue that these databases could be hacked by criminals who could then steal personal information.

How to Check Your PC’s Overall Security Setup

Most people who are concerned about internet safety want to know if they have enough computer security to safely access browse the world wide web. But just how much security is enough? How do you really know if you are protected?

Here is some information on setting up and testing your computer security to make sure that your personal information stays protected and personal.

Ways to set up your computer security

Here are some of the tools that you can utilize to help increase your internet safety and ensure that your data remains private:

  •  Anti-malware software – Since anti-virus software generally only deals with viruses, it is a good idea to protect your computer security from other malware by installing anti-malware software. These programs will look for worms, spyware, Trojan horses, and more. Some anti-virus software will also offer anti-malware tools, or you can download it separately.
  • Anti-virus software – A main component to computer security is having anti-virus software installed. This software helps protect your computer from accidentally downloading a virus in email attachments or other files. It can also help you isolate viruses that you already have and remove them before they can cause more damage. You can purchase anti-virus software online, or download a free program that you trust to upgrade your computer security.
  •  Firewall – If your operating system does not come with a firewall, then you should purchase one, and if it does then you should ensure that it is activated and configured with optimal settings. A firewall gives you added computer security when you access the internet. This is because malware can enter any of the many ports on your computer that allows information to pass back and forth, such as your email or when you access online games. A firewall helps to hide these ports, giving you more computer security from hackers who are searching for vulnerabilities. There are plenty of free firewalls that you can download online to use if you don’t have one already on your computer.
  • Patch your operating system regularly. Much of the malware that compromises computer security comes in by way of weaknesses and loopholes that hackers find in your operating system. The companies of these operating systems will regularly put out patches designed to strengthen weak spots as they are discovered. By downloading these patches regularly, you can make sure that your operating system is secure as possible. Often, you can set these downloads to be updated on a regular basis during a time when you are not using your computer, such as overnight.
  • Router – even if you only have one computer, a router can be a valuable tool. This is because a router creates a local area network for your private computer address, causing your computer system to appear as a single machine with a single address. This helps to hide your computers from prying eyes to give you added computer security. At the same time, the Network Address Translation that your router performs gives you a strong firewall to prevent malware from the internet coming on to your system. This firewall works with any type of computer system, so you can effectively boost your computer security.

Ensure That you Possess Adequate Computer Security

Once you have taken the above steps to protect your computer, you will want to make sure that you have adequate computer security to protect your information. This can be easily tested if you know how.

Start by installing your firewall, anti-virus software, and other aspects of your computer security and make sure that they are all functioning properly. Then, utilize any number of computer security test sites, such as http://www.gfi.com/emailsecuritytest/ , and run a test. This will give you a list of results of the test once completed. You will want to first check to see if your ports are shielded or stealthed so that they cannot be viewed from the Internet. This can help offer you more computer security from malware and hackers.

Another important facet to corner yourself with is web browser security. Similar to firewall and port testing, many websites will offer free browser security tests. These tests will look to see if your private information, such as passwords, are protected. Furthermore, tests will scan for a large variety of additional concerns, such as memory corruption, bait and switch conditions, arbitrary code execution and more.

With both of these tests completed, you will have more computer security when browsing the internet. However, you should still be on the lookout for signs of malware to help protect yourself and your computer.

PC Security 101: What Makes for a Solid Password?

Your computer password is imperative as it is designed to protect your personal information. Ideally, a password would prevent anyone but yourself to access your sensitive information. However, some passwords are easier to crack than others, and your computer security could be compromised if you are using a week password. Here’s a look at what makes a solid password and how you can create your own.

Solid passwords: Good vs. bad

Surprisingly, it is not hard to distinguish a good computer password from a bad one. Bad security passwords are the ones that can be easily guessed by another person or computer, whereas good passwords are difficult for someone else to decipher.

How to Create a Solid Password

There are many factors that you can incorporate into your password to give you optimum computer security. Things to consider:

  • Use an algorithm. An algorithm is essentially a procedure that will create a unique and personal password. For instance, you can think of a sentence that is easy to remember, and use the first letter of each word as the password. Or, come up with a trivia question and use the first two letters of the phrase as the password. Ideally, you should use upper and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and punctuation. These variations work well as passwords as they are easy to remember by you, yet appear totally random to computers.
  • Use an image. Do you have a CD or a book on your desk that is always there, or a picture hanging on your wall? You can use that to create a password on its own or using the image in conjunction with the above suggested algorithm technique. Avoid using words or names that appear directly in the image. If you are very concerned about computer security, choose an image that you can lock away in a desk drawer or carry with you in your wallet to prevent someone else from seeing it and guessing your password.
  • Use intentional misspellings. You can use your favorite words, but try spelling them phonetically instead of using the proper spelling. Throwing in hyphens or other random punctuation in the world will also increase the computer security that it offers without making the password significantly difficult to remember.
  • Make it nonsensical. A solid password doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but you. Feel free to use a silly phrase that you can remember. You can also use the shift key when typing numbers, or make up your own jargon that only you will remember.
  • Use a password program. Another available option is to use a password manager program to create a computer security password as needed. The program automatically creates good passwords for you, and you do not even have to remember what they are. However, your password to enter the program should be something that you create on your own and be as solid as possible to prevent someone from hacking in and stealing all of your passwords.

Keeping a Solid Password Secure

It is highly recommend that you utilize multiple methods when coming up with security passwords. If you choose to use an algorithm, for example, do not use one that can easily be deciphered. If you do, and one account is hacked, your entire computer’s security could be in jeopardy. In fact, it is highly suggested that you do not implement the same algorithm techniques for all passwords. Remember to mix it up to keep the hackers guessing.

Keep in mind that different systems may have different limits – not all systems will allow for an alpha-numeric password or your computer security may not allow symbols. Shorten it or adjust it as needed for your system.

Ideally, a solid password should factor in the following:

  • A minimum of 7 characters.
  • Will not contain your account name, your full name, or other words that are easily guessed.
  • Will have at least three of the following: uppercase letters, lowercase letters, numbers, and symbol characters.

Once you have chosen a solid security password, make sure to protect it. Never write passwords down. Instead, write down a clue that will jog your memory. Keep all clues and other login information in a secure place at all times, and never give out your password information to anyone else. A solid password is only as secure as how you treat it – if you write it down on a post-it stuck to your computer, then it is easy for someone to come along and steal it, no matter how complicated it is.