Securing your PC

Securing your PC

With just a few quick steps, you can help keep your computer and your personal information safe

You use your home computer for emailing, banking, shopping and other activities where you have to disclose personal information. Whilst most sites are safe and secure, there are still plenty of threats to your online security. So it’s important to make sure no one’s snooping into your affairs. Your kids may be tech-savvy, but they’re not always aware of (or bothered about) the dangers, which means your PC could be left wide open to intruders.

So, how exactly is your PC under threat, and from whom? In this guide, we’ll reveal the dangers lurking out there and – more importantly – the steps you can take to keep your computer safe.

Viruses

These are a constant threat to computers and as soon as you start emailing, downloading or shopping online, your PC is vulnerable. A virus is basically any kind of malicious software ('malware '). They are designed to spread from computer to computer and create as much misery as possible.

There are different types of virus but one of the most evil is spyware . It acts like a cyber burglar, snooping on your browsing habits or stealing personal information like passwords and bank details. Some spyware can literally open up your computer to hackers who can then access your files and personal details. Once they’re in, they can even use your PC to attack other computers.

Identity theft

Identity theft is also known as 'phishing '. It’s basically people trying to trick you into giving away your personal information. If you’ve ever received an email sob story from a stranger requesting money, or you’ve clicked on a website that promises riches for a small initial payment, chances are you’ve been ‘phished’. Once you’ve handed over your bank details, or other personal information, this is passed onto criminals.

Phishing emails claim to originate from all sorts of sources, including the Revenue and Customs site.

Wi-Fi piggybacking

If you don’t protect your wireless router by encrypting it and using a password, your neighbours and any passers-by could be enjoying free Wi-Fi at your expense. You have no control over what material other people are downloading but it will all be in your name. Plus, extra internet usage might push your download capacity over the limit.

There’s also the risk that piggybackers might have more in mind than a bit of free surfing. As soon as someone has direct access to your computer, they can also install something called a ‘keylogger’. This nifty little program stores every keystroke you make, which means the owner can work out your passwords for every online banking transaction or purchase.

Protect your computer

Once you know what threats are out there, you’ve got the ammunition you need to do something about it. There’s no magic cure-all available, but you can reduce the risk of infection with a layered security approach. That is, using different techniques and tools to outwit the viruses and scammers.

Start by closing as many security holes as you can by keeping your PC fully up to date. Windows Update automatically downloads and installs updates, and many of these help make your PC more secure. Don’t be tempted to switch off automatic updates, whatever anyone tells you.

Many other threats can be kept at bay with the help of an all-in-one package such as Norton Internet Security 2012. This employs a robust firewall to prevent hackers accessing your PC. It can also deal with viruses, spyware and all kinds of malware , and it updates automatically so you don’t have to do anything.

With regards to phishing , it’s really down to you to be vigilant. You wouldn’t hand your bank details over to a stranger on the street so don’t do it online. Whilst staying alert is the best defence, Norton blocks all known and potential phishing sites, which will add another level of security.

Most PCs get infected because their owners visited an unsafe website or downloaded a file with unsafe software, so be extra careful when you visit new websites. Norton Safe Web provides clear safety ratings for websites in your search results. To check out an individual site for safety, go to the Safe Web homepage, enter the site URL and click Search. You’ll get a full report on the site’s safety.

Use the Norton Safe Web online tool to check out any site you like for a full safety report before you visit.

To protect you against downloads containing malware , Norton Insight scans them and you’ll get a clear pop-up message to let you know if it’s safe to install. This is a great backup , just in case you overlooked a site’s safety or, more likely, one of the kids was desperate to get a game or add-on without thinking about security.

Norton Insight scans incoming downloads and tells you if they’re safe before you install them.

Get more help

Your PC is particularly at risk when you enter sensitive data. Online shopping is a prime example as it’s easy to get carried away before you consider the security issues. You can find out how to protect yourself when you’re shopping online with our how-to guide.

Security software will help to keep your PC safe, but it isn’t a bulletproof solution. Common sense is the final tool in your box of security tricks. Avoid too-good-to-be-true offers and never click on links in emails that ask for your details. Similarly, avoid dodgy websites and don’t download software from unknown sites.