Computer Crime Research Center


Taking on windows security

Date: December 24, 2006
By: Ahmed Ashiful Haque

Ensuring security on your computer that runs Windows is a delicate and complicated business. The ever-menacing threats of viruses, spyware, phishing is always on the rise. Your valuable data is always at risk. So, how do you keep yourself safe? Here's a short rundown of some of the things you'll need to keep an eye on to keep your computer safer.

By learning as much as you can about computer and network security and assessing how your system is at risk you will greatly improve your odds of staying secure. For example, if your PC is never connected to the internet or never used by anyone other than you, it is obviously safer than a PC used by everyone in the household, used for downloading files and browsing.

Regardless of the intended use, the three basic keys are to install anti-virus software (and keep it up to date), never open files from sources you don't know and keep your system properly patched against known vulnerabilities.

Beyond that, there are a few other precautions one can take to try to ensure the security of their computer.

Use a firewall
On the Internet, hackers often use malicious codeviruses, worms, and Trojansto try to find unprotected computers. While some attacks are just nuisances that may play simple pranks, others are created with malicious intent. These more severe strains may attempt to delete information from your computer, crash it, or even steal personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers.

Fortunately, you can reduce your risk of infection by using a firewall. A firewall works by examining information coming from and going to the Internet. It identifies and stops information that comes from a dangerous location or seems suspicious.

When you set up your firewall correctly, hackers searching for vulnerable computers can't detect your computer.

Three basic types of firewalls are available. The first step is to determine which one is best for you. Your options include: software firewalls, hardware and wireless routers.

Turn on Automatic Updates in Windows XP
To help protect your computer from the latest internet threats, it's important to install new security updates as soon as they become available. The easiest way to do this is to turn on Automatic Updates and use the recommended setting, which downloads recommended updates and installs them on a schedule you set.

Use Firefox
Use Firefox or Opera. Instead of using Internet Explorer with all its vulnerabilities, both Firefox and Opera are much faster, secure and stable.

Use Anti-Virus Software
Viruses can wreak havoc on your computer. Protect yourself by using antivirus software. Nothing can guarantee the security of your computer 100 percent. But you can still continue to improve your computer's security and decrease the possibility of infection by using a firewall, keeping your system up-to-date, maintaining a current antivirus software subscription, and following a few common practices.

Use Anti-Spyware and Adware software
Spyware is software that displays advertisements (called adware) or tracks personal or sensitive information, even access your computer. Protect your computer by using anti-spyware and adware software. Spyware is a general term used to describe software that performs certain behaviors such as advertising, collecting personal information, or changing the configuration of your computer, generally without appropriately obtaining your consent first.

These programs can change your Web browser's home page or search page, or add additional components to your browser you don't need or want. These programs also make it very difficult for you to change your settings back to the way you originally had them.

There are a number of ways spyware or other unwanted software can get on your computer. A common trick is to covertly install the software during the installation of other software you want such as a music or video file sharing program.

The spread of spyware has led to the development of an entire anti-spyware industry. Its products remove or disable existing spyware on the computers they are installed on and prevent its installation.

Be careful what you click on
Often, attackers must entice you to open an email attachment or visit their Web site in order to attack your computer. If you open the attachment or visit their site, malicious code is executed on your computer. To protect your computer, be careful what you click on.

Use limited accounts to secure your Windows XP
Windows XP provides two different types of user accounts: limited and administrator. Administrator accounts have unlimited access to the computer, while limited accounts have some restrictions. One significant difference between limited and administrator accounts is the ease with which both types of users can download and install programs.

Since it's easy for you to download and install programs while using an administrator account, it's also easier for attackers to download and install programs to your computer without your knowledge. If an attacker entices you to visit their Web site and you're using an administrator account, the attacker may be able to put programs on your computer that could delete your files, spy on your activity, use your computer to attack others, and more.

In contrast, if you're using a limited account when you visit an attacker's Web site, it's less likely the attacker will be able to download and install the program or file that's necessary to infect your computer.

All these steps would greatly help in making your computer more secure, but there is always the risk of the worse for happening: a fatal hard-disk crash or a virus erasing all your date. And that's why it's very important to backup what's important to you. No matter what, remember to always back up your data!
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