Mar.05

5 Steps to a Secure Computer

In this post we’ll go over some technologies which every user should use to secure their personal computer. Although following these steps doesn’t guarantee you won’t have security issues with your computer, they do ensure you have the basics covered!

Something to note and in contrary to popular belief, Apple Mac computers are not virus free, they suffer from many similar attack types as Windows computers and benefit from all the below mentioned advice for securing your system.

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1) Antivirus

The first, and arguably the most important piece of protective software on your computer; antivirus targets malicious software and attempts to remove it before it can affect your computer.

  • Set it to automatically update itself regularly.
  • Set up scheduled scanning of your computer weekly.
  • Don’t install software if you’re not 100% sure of its authenticity.
Free Antivirus Software:

Below are a few free antivirus packages which you might find useful, however only have one running at any one time or you’ll suffer from system slowness.

2) Firewalls

A firewall is a piece of software that is installed on your computer and filters / monitors the network (internet) communications that occur. It detects threats that might be attempting to break into your computer and a good firewall will also monitor applications on your computer that are trying to reach the internet and verify this is intended activity by the user. This is to stop viruses and other rough software from sending your personal details back to their creators or installing more malicious software.

  • Make sure your ‘internal’ firewall is enabled in your computer’s system settings (Apple’s OS X / Microsoft’s Windows).
  • Always read any warning messages from your firewall.
  • Never approve an application or connection you don’t recognize.
  • A firewall should complement a good antivirus package (See Above).
  • Don’t turn off your firewall, unless you absolutely sure about what you’re doing.
Free Firewall Software:

The majority of modern computers come with a ‘built-in’ firewall that in many cases meets the simple protection requirements of an average home user. This can be enabled in the operating systems settings. However if you would like an increased sense of protection there are other software packages available; many are also free to use, such as:

3) Software Updates

Although simple in theory, keeping your computer’s operating system, installed software, antivirus and so on up to date is something many people fail to do. However, as software becomes out of date, it also becomes less secure. The are many reasons for this, but the basics are that as vulnerabilities (security bugs) are found in software then you need to ‘patch’ or update your system to ensure it is protected.

Keeping your operating system is very simple for the main two modern systems, Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac OS X.

Software installed on your computer system can be a little more complex, it very much depends on what you have installed. Many pieces of software contain ‘check’ or automatic updaters. Check the website of the software for help on finding yours. The are some tools which scan your system for what is installed and then recommend what should be updated. A couple of these [free] tools are, FileHippo App Manager and Secunia PSI.

Don’t constantly postpone system or software updates. Let them install shortly after they first start to warn you, the longer you wait, the high risk you put your system in. 

4) Regular Backups

Keeping backups is the kinda things people put off. We like to think that our computer, USB drive or SD card couldn’t possibly fail us. However, this is not the case and most (if not all) people will have a piece of hardware fail on them at some point or other. Therefore ensuring you have a copy of your data in the form of a backup is very important. It’s also important from a security perspective, if your computer system is infected (or destroyed) by a virus or malicious hacker and you don’t have the ability to recover your data, then the impact to you is far greater than just having your computer fail. Having a recent backup means you can repair your computer and then restore all your data, reducing the impact of the virus or hacker attack.

The are many types of backup solution and many offering out there which will help you backup and restore data. Some options will be listed later on, but for now let’s go over what a backup actually is.

A backup is not simply a relocation of your data to another place, like moving your pictures off your phone onto your computer. A backup is only when there are copies or duplicates of the same data in separate locations. Therefore always make sure you check that whatever tool or process you use is not simply moving your data, but also duplicating it.

Cloud based tools upload or ‘sync’ a copy of your data into the ‘cloud’. In practice a piece of software on your device monitors your local data and uploads is to servers located ‘online’ which is often in large data centres across the world. Some good offering in this space are DropBox, OneDrive and Box.

Local based tools take a copy of your data and store it on an external drive, USB drive or network storage drive. These allow complete control over your data and mean you don’t need to trust a third party with the maintenance and storage of your backups. However, this approach does mean you’re not protected against theft or destruction of the local drives in which your backups are stored. Software in this space is also common and some vendors are CrashPlan and Backblaze (interestingly both of these tools also offer cloud based storage too).

Ideally you should use a combination of both local and cloud based backup solutions. For instance I personally use OneDrive for online backups and sync and Crashplan for backing up to an external drive.

5) Parental Controls (Optional)

This step is only really for parents who have young(ish) children. Keeping your child’s online / computer experience safe and secure is a challenge in itself. Fortunately there are several solutions in this area which you should consider.

The 4 big internet providers in the UK – BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media – provide their customers with free parental controls which can be activated at any time. You can watch helpful videos on how to enable them here.

On your actual home computers the are inbuilt control on both modern versions of Windows and OS X.

The are several additional options which some people find offer great functionality and in some cases protection. Two of which are, K9 Web Protection and Kidlogger.

I hope you have found some useful information here, please let us know in the comments if you disagree with any of our advice and also if you have any other suggestions which might help!

Note: This was first authored (by myself) for a small blog/project which is now shutdown and I wanted to keep the content.

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About Harry McLaren