In this time of modern convenience, which includes the availability of pretty much everything to everyone, one thing lots of folks take for granted is the safety of their information. Once upon a time in a land far, far away, everything was done by hand. From how you tracked down books in a library, to how you balanced your checkbook. And if you were a shop keep or business owner, all your profit and loss was done in a large book, usually leather, that was bound and sturdy. It was called a ledger, from which bookkeepers still use the name. Now, most anything you once did with a paper and pen can be done with computers. This means that almost anyone can see it and take advantage of it, and ultimately you in the process. Right? Well, yes and no. That’s where computer safety comes in.
We all know stuff is going to hit the fan. The only question is when. As things worsen in the economy, and also as a part of human nature, there will be those who seek to profit from stealing from your information and you. As things get worse, as the inevitable decline in America as we know it continues, these incidences are only going to increase, not decrease.
Both to protect your information and of course your livelihood and future, it is prudent to do all that you can to put your computer on “lock down” so to speak. Here are some tips that should help you achieve this.
Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware/Spyware Programs
These are a great place to start, though they are not the core of the solution. Even with a solid program in place, you can still open yourself up to unpleasantness like hackers and thieves. Such invasions may be as simple as sending spam to your email (and the email addresses of people you have in your in-box) or it may constitute identity theft, or the deletion of all the data on your hard drive. Another problem is that some software is a resource hog, taking up memory and valuable space on your computer, potentially slowing everything to a crawl. Norton is a solid workhorse in antivirus circles, but it is one such program guilty of gobbling up all the space it can.
On the other end of the scale, you have programs like AVG , Avast  and Malwarebytes ‘ Mal-Aware, or Intego VirusBarrier  (for Mac users) that are free. You might think, “Oh, you get what you pay for.” In many cases, you are very right. So how does a free or relatively inexpensive program compare or even compete with the ones that are expensive right out of the gate? Well, all software companies that develop such products have people in-house working their tails off to make sure their product is the best at what it does. For products like those mentioned above, that have a free version, their houses have no reason to skimp on the quality. If they did, do you think they would still be around today? Customers and ‘Net security professionals would run them out on a rail. Think of the free version as a trial sample. You get a full suite of protection services, and if you like what it does for you, you can pay to enhance its protection further by picking up complementary products.
Of course, as with anything, there are caveats to this rule. Not all anti-virus software programs are created equal. However, there are reputable sites like CNET who provide reviews of the for-free, for-cheap, and for-fee products and services, so you can best determine what meets your needs and budget.
Common Sense and Sensibility
But as has been noted, a solid software setup won’t keep you completely safe. You have to be aware of what you are doing in order to keep yourself and your information out of dirty hands and away from prying eyes. For example, if you get on a persistent public terminal (meaning that you use it every day, and that data isn’t deleted every time the computer is rebooted), here are some great tips  on how you can keep yourself and your information safe.
If you use a unique password to log in, do not save it, otherwise the next user who comes along can get in and alter or delete all your hard work. If the computer and system administrator allow it, save your work to a jump drive (or as they’re more commonly known, a USB drive. They can be had for pretty cheap at most electronics stores).
- If there is sensitive info on the screen, don’t leave it unattended. If you have to step away, and the computer has a way to lock it down so others can’t access it, use it. Just turning off the monitor, or turning on the screen saver, isn’t enough.
- You can easily “erase your tracks” by making sure Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, Camino or whatever browser you use doesn’t remember any passwords you plug in. It can also delete your cookies and other cached info, so the next time someone logs in, they won’t see where you went or what you did.
- Lastly, never enter sensitive information into a public terminal. This includes, but is not limited to, the website for your bank, or your insurance, Social Security, etc.
Another important aspect of computer safety is Internet access. We’ve already discussed anti-virus and anti-malware software (malware is related to viruses, in that it is software that can disrupt, damage, or otherwise compromise your system), but here are some steps that you can take above and beyond what the software does for you.
Make sure that your email client, whichever one it is, has spam filters in place. If you ever get an email from a name or address you do not recognize, don’t open it. It could be nothing, or it could be someone “phishing” for sensitive data about you, like your bank account number(s) or what-have-you. Delete it right away, or, if you suspect it of being a virus, forward the email to your antivirus provider. One common misconception is that if you forward such emails to your friends, you can warn them about them. The problem is, not everyone is so well informed as you, and may click on the links in the emails, compromising themselves, and potentially everyone in their contact list. Tell them about it, warn them what it says so they will know it when they see it, but don’t do the hackers’ job for them by passing it along. The same goes for attachments in emails, especially executable files (.exe). Many email clients (like Gmail) won’t even let you send .exe files any more, if they ever did, just for this very reason. Unless you know the person sending it to you, treat every attachment with suspicion until you can prove that it’s safe by running a scan on it. Many clients also have built in virus scanners, but don’t trust their word for it. Vet it for yourself to know for certain.
Instant messages in programs like AIM (AOL Instant Messenger), ICQ, and even Facebook chat, as flawed and buggy as it is, can also be sources of headaches. If you get an IM from someone you know (or someone you don’t know) that looks out of the ordinary, ignore it and certainly don’t click on any links within it.
This may all sound terribly overwhelming and alarmist, but rest assured that Internet (and by extension computer) security is a very big deal. It is, in fact, one of the largest sectors in the tech market today. It really is not that difficult to safeguard your secrets and whatever else you keep on your computer. With a little common sense and intuition, you can shut out all those pesky prying eyes and grasping hands.