In today’s world, protecting your computer is a must - persistent threats from hackers mean that you need to protect yourself no matter where you are. At home or in the office, malware can attack your system.

Now, there are numerous ways to protect yourself - or to remove malware from your computer if you happen to get infected. But no single method is enough to ensure your computer is safe and secure.

The more layers of defense you have, the harder it is for hackers to get to you. There are some simple but critical steps to follow to protect your computer: Install a firewall, Install antivirus software, Install anti-spyware software, Use complex, secure passwords, Check on your browser’s security settings.

Install a firewall

A firewall is like your security guard, and there are two types: software firewalls and hardware firewalls. Each type of firewall serves a similar purpose, and firewalls are the first step to a solid security plan for your computer. They create a barrier between your computer and any unauthorized program trying to come through the internet.

If you’re using your system at home, we suggest that you permanently enable your firewall. It will alert you if there are any unauthorized efforts to use your computer.

Install antivirus software

Another strong method of computer protection is antivirus software, which helps protect your computer from any unauthorized code or software that creates a threat to your system. Examples of unauthorized software include:

These may slow down your computer’s processing speed, delete important files, or access personal information.

Note: even if your system is currently virus-free, you need to install antivirus software to protect yourself from future virus attacks.

Antivirus software plays a major role in real-time protection, and has an added advantage of detecting threats immediately to help your computer (and the information it holds) stay safe. Some advanced antivirus programs even provide automatic updates which help further protect your computer from newly created viruses.

Antivirus software for Windows 8 may include advanced features like email protection, a pop-up blocker, and identity theft protection.

Install anti-spyware software

Spyware is a software that collects personal information about an individual or organization without their approval and redirects it to a third-party website. They’re designed to be difficult to be removed, which is why anti-spyware software exists; its sole purpose is to protect your computer from spyware.

Similar to antivirus software, anti-spyware software offers real-time protection. It scans all information coming into you computer and helps block a threat as soon as it's detected. Comodo Free Antivirus comes with spyware protection built in.

Use complex and secure passwords

One of the first lines of defense in maintaining your system’s security is having strong, complex passwords, because they’re difficult for hackers to figure out. You want to use a password that’s at least 8 characters in length and includes a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and at least one special character. Hackers can break easy passwords in a few minutes with their tools - one recent study showed that a 6-character password with all lower-case letters can be broken in under 6 minutes. That’s why it’s vital to have a password that’s more difficult to break!

Check the security settings of your browser

You should review your browser’s security and privacy settings, so that you can set them to the level you want. Many modern browsers give you the ability to tell websites not to track your movements online, which can give you increased privacy and security.

Secure your wireless network

If you use a wireless network in your home, you need to take precautions to secure it against hackers. Encrypting wireless communications is the first step - you want to choose a wireless router with an encryption feature and turn it on.

Note: WPA encryption is considered stronger than WEP encryption.

Your computer, router, and other equipment should also use the same encryption; if your router enables identifier broadcasting, disable it, and note the SSID name so you can connect your computers to your network manually.

Keep in mind that hackers often know the preset passwords to this kind of equipment, so you should change both your router’s default identifier and its pre-set administrative password. We also recommend that you turn off your wireless network when you’re not using it.

You also need to remember that public “hot spots” may not be secure, and it’s safest to avoid accessing or sending sensitive, personal information over a public wireless network. You may consider buying a mobile broadband card that will allow you to connect to the internet without having to rely on Wi-Fi hotspots; it plugs into your computer, laptop, PDA, or cell phone and uses a cell phone signal to provide high-speed internet access. See if your cell phone company offers one, and keep in mind that they generally require a monthly service plan.

Be careful if you share files

We know you enjoy sharing music, movies, photos, and even software, and that there’s file-sharing software which connects your computer to other computers for free. However, file-sharing can pose several risks:

Shop safely online

When you’re shopping online, make sure you do research on a site before entering your credit card number or other personal information. Read their privacy policy and look for opportunities to opt out of information sharing.

Note: If there’s no privacy policy posted, beware! Shop elsewhere and stay safe.

Learn how to tell when a website is secure. You’ll want to look for the “https” in the address bar or an unbroken padlock icon at the bottom of your browser window. These are signs that your information will be encrypted, or “scrambled,” protecting it from hackers as it moves across the internet.

Keep your operating system up-to-date

What is Windows Update?

Windows Update is a Microsoft website that provides updates for Windows Operating System software and Windows-based hardware. These updates address known issues and help protect against known security threats.

How does it work?

When you visit the website, Windows Update scans your computer and tells you which updates you should apply to your software and hardware. You’re then able to choose which updates you want to install and how you want to install them (immediately, at a set time, etc).

How can you update your computer?

If you turn on “Automatic Updates,” Windows Update can deliver high-priority updates to your computer as they become available, while still giving you the option to choose when and how these updates are installed. Follow these easy steps:

Delete unknown emails

If you receive emails from random people, and have doubts after reading the sender’s name and the subject, don’t open the email; just delete it. Never download or open attachments unless you’re sure it’s from someone you know; if you’re not sure, you can always give them a quick call to check.

Most large companies that you create online accounts with won’t send you attachments unless you specifically request them through the website, and you should always be wary of any emails claiming to be your bank, an auction site, etc., asking you to verify your bank account or address information. No professional, valid website does that - most, in fact, specifically tell you that they won’t request that information from you via email.

Keep in mind that hackers and scammers will try to prey on your emotions; if something sounds too good to be true - like a free vacation or that you’ve won money - it probably is. And if you get an email from someone claiming to be the IRS, a lawyer, or the police, and they’re trying to scare you, don’t panic and start giving out your information. These are nearly always scams, because no official agency emails people about serious issues, and you can usually check them with a phone call.

Back up your computer

If your computer stopped working, would you lose any important documents, photos, or other files? While it may be possible to repair your computer, your files could be lost forever without a recent backup. You can use an external hard drive or online backup service to back up either your most important files or, if you have the space, all the files on your computer.

External hard drives

You can purchase an external hard drive and copy your computer’s contents onto it, but keep in mind that the initial backup could take several hours. You’ll want to select a period of time when you don’t need access to your computer, like overnight. Follow-up backups should also be conducted on a regular basis, but those generally don’t take as long.

One of the drawbacks to backing up your files on an external hard drive is that it can be lost, damaged, or stolen, just like your computer. That’s why it’s very important to keep your drive in a secure location when you’re not using it.

Online backup services

If you don’t want to use an external hard drive to back up your files, you can use an online backup service like Mozy, Carbonite, or Box. These services back up your files in the cloud, which means you can recover them from any computer with an internet connection. However, the amount of storage provided by these sites varies, and you’ll usually need to pay a fee for adequate storage space.

One drawback to online backup services is that the initial backup can be very slow, sometimes taking days if you have a lot of files. However, subsequent backups should not take as long.

By installing protective software, taking precautions to protect your passwords and your security, and backing up your system regularly, you can build a strong line of defense against hackers, scammers, viruses, and malware. We suggest taking some or all of these suggestions to heart, so that you don’t lose your important information.

We also suggest that you visit our antivirus comparison pages, to make sure that you’re finding the best antivirus for your needs. Check out our top-rated antivirus programs, read reviews from other customers, and see side-by-side comparisons of antivirus software suites!

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