Computer Security Part 1 – Rules for Basic Computer Security

A lot of my friends (and my sister) have trouble with viruses and trojans on their systems. Sometimes, their accounts are hacked and their passwords phished and they have that embarrassing moment where all their contacts get spammed. (It’s happened to me too.) So here are a few rules every person should follow to reduce the risk of this happening. There will probably be more things to talk about later so I’m calling this Part 1. Some of this advice is also going to seem really basic, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t even think about this kind of stuff. After living with my sister…trust me, I know.

  1. ALWAYS have an up to date antivirus program on your computer. By up to date, I mean keep it updated! Anti-virus companies protect against new viruses, worms, and trojan variants every day, so your anti virus is only as good as its updates. If you don’t want to shell out money for it, there are some free anti-virus programs out there too like Avast or AVG. All UBC students are able to download Sophos for free here: http://it.ubc.ca/download.html.  Another thing I wanted to mention is that there’s a myth out there that Macs don’t get viruses. Incorrect! Let me clarify this. Right now, the most commonly used operating system is Microsoft Windows. This means that those that write viruses/worms/trojans for monetary gain target Windows. However, there has been a recent rise in cross-platform viruses (i.e. viruses that infect Windows, Macs, and hell, even Linux!) Check this out: Example Of Multi-Platform Viruses.
    Also, Macs can get viruses designed for Windows.  Even though this doesn’t affect the Mac computer itself, the Mac might spread it to other computers. Want to know something shocking?  1 in 5 Macs Has Malware On It. Today, no operating system is safe from malware.  If you don’t believe me, believe Apple. They recently changed their marketing message.  Sorry, but there it is. Sophos actually has a free Mac anti-virus you may want to try.
  2. Keep your computer patched as well. I know how frustrating it is to have to download 14 Windows updates at least once a month but it’s necessary. Those updates patch security vulnerabilities and prevent people from remotely accessing your computer and your files. It’s a good idea to download and apply these patches as soon as possible.
  3. We all have accounts with a ton of different websites. Think about it…I bet you have at least 30-40 accounts. Now this next one is going to suck (and as a matter of full disclosure, it’s not one I always follow even though I SHOULD). Each of these accounts needs to have its own password. Yup, it sucks but it’s the safest option. Last year will be remembered as the year dozens of websites were hacked and account details were stolen. The WORST part was that people had re-used those passwords on really important sites (PayPal, Amazon, banking etc). If they have your username for one site, chances are they’ll try that combination on other sites. Now I bet you’re rolling your eyes and asking “How the heck am I supposed to remember all those passwords?” The answer is “With a password storage application!” Some to check out are KeePass and LastPass.
  4. Now my last security tip is the most basic one. If you decide that Points 1-3 are just not for you, then at least consider this tip. On the Internet, sometimes curiosity kills the cat. The cat being your computer. We get a ton of spam e-mails every day (even from the compromised accounts of our friends) and most of them are laced with malware. This means that no matter how curious you are about that pill to lengthen your manhood or “hotchick47” who MUST have sexual relations with you, just don’t. That Nigerian prince doesn’t really want to give you money and that online pharmacy isn’t going to sell you any legitimate medication. UPS doesn’t have a package for you, your incriminating photos haven’t been leaked, and Facebook will NEVER have a tool for people to see who has viewed their profile. Your friends who NEVER e-mail you aren’t going to up and decide to send you an e-mail with only a link in it or talk about the wonders of the place where they bought their new Dell computer.  And finally, there are no naked pictures of Anna Kournikova.
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