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Tips for protecting your computer in 2013

9th January 2013

The threat on your personal computer is becoming increasingly serious, so here’s some tips on how to better protect you and your family in the new year.

More than 12 million people in the UK alone were affected by online crime in 2012 costing £1.8bn a year, according to the annual Norton Cybercrime report. With this increasing online threat The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) has produced some advice to help people protect yourself. 

Viruses and spyware

These are predominantly software programs, or files that have been created specifically to cause harm to your computer and steal sensitive personal data. Additionally, they may be also used to harbor criminal activity, without the user’s knowledge. Protect yourself:

• Always make sure you have suitable anti-virus software installed and that your firewall is switched on.
• Always consider what you are downloading – do not open files from unknown sources.
• Be wary of ‘pop-ups’ requesting unsolicited downloads.
• If you discover a virus on your computer, disconnect from the internet immediately a specialist for advice.

Software updates

These updates enable your computer to improve security, fix bugs, and download the latest program versions, together with enhancing the overall performance of your operating system. Without these updates your computer could be vulnerable to attack. Protect yourself:

• Ensure that you update programs regularly, paying particular attention to critical security updates and other programs such as Flash and Java.
• Avoid downloading updates from third party websites that are not officially recognised by the programmer. These may be corrupted and could damage your computer.

Wireless networks and hotspots

These networks allow a computer to access the internet remotely, without the use of Ethernet cables. Without safeguards, hackers may connect to your computer enabling them to observe what websites your visit, collecting personal data such as account information which could be used for criminal purposes. Protect yourself:

• At home ensure your Wi-Fi network is password protected.
• When using a public hotspot: Be aware that unless the web page is secure “https” others can easily access what you are transmitting.
• Be sure that your personal wireless connection is encrypted; it is password protected and if your router has a firewall, make sure this is enabled.

Spam and phishing emails

“Phishing” emails are designed to capture your personal information: including but not limited to bank details, addresses, passwords and usernames, basically any information that can be used to commit fraud and steal your money. Protect yourself:

• Never provide personal or financial information to any company asking or requesting these details from you. Banks and genuine companies, in most cases, will never email you to provide these details.
• If in doubt, contact the company direct to confirm if the request is genuine.
• Hackers will use compromised accounts to send messages pretending to be friends or colleagues, asking for financial support. If you receive suspicious messages like this, contact your friend or colleague immediately via other means to check the messages truthfulness.

Passwords

Nearly all modern accounts will require the person logging on to provide a username and password to ensure legitimate access. Protect yourself:

• When creating a password, try not to use the same password for more than one account. This will prevent further accounts being taken over if one has been compromised.
• Use complicated passwords: vary the case, use 8 or more characters. Never use personal information such as names or dates of birth.
• Try not to post information on social media such as your birth date, your first pet, or school as these are normally included in security questions to reset your password. Fraudsters may use these answers to access your account via the “Forgot Password” link.

Backups

The potential for not backing up your hard drive could be extremely damaging. In cases where your computer has been infected with a virus, it will be difficult, if not virtually impossible to retrieve any important data that has been either corrupted or destroyed by malicious software.

• Always back up your computer hard drive. This is basically a safety mechanism that will duplicate everything saved onto your computer. It will prevent any potential loss of important information such as documents, photographs, and other files.
• A back up will allow you to restore these files if they have deleted accidently or maliciously.
• In addition, you should always copy your important files. Store these safely away from your computer in case of theft or accidental damage.

Related links

How to report a fraud
Why contact Action Fraud?
What we do with your information