To start this article, a joke: Why did the programmers mix up Halloween and Christmas? Because 25 DEC = 31 OCT. Haha! Well… if you got that, you probably don’t need to read this article.

It is often said that there is no such things as 100% security. While that is true, it is no reason why you shouldn’t take all necessary precautions to prevent unauthorized access. In this article we will examine a few ways to protect your data.

Local Security

Out of all the different ways an intruder can access your computer, local access is the most promising way to circumvent your security. If a person has local access to a computer, it is only a matter of time before the data on the computer will be extracted.

However, protecting your computer against local attacks is also easy and only takes a few minutes. First, put a password on your BIOS configuration. Typically, it involves pressing Esc, Tab, F1, or some other key to access the BIOS configuration. From there, the configuration menu should have a tab about security. Open the tab about security and choose a decent password (there are hints about choosing a good password later on). Also, set the computer to boot up from the hard drive first, and do not let it try to boot from the A:\ drive or the CD-ROM drive. The reason why it shouldn’t attempt to read the A:\ or CD-ROM drive is that an intruder could use a CD-ROM bootable O.S. like Knoppix to steal your password, even though a BIOS password is set. Now save the changes and exit.

Now to set a password on your accounts on Windows operating systems:

For NT and XP users: Make sure your administrative account has a password on it. Also, put a password on any other accounts you have and disable the guest account.
For 95, 98, and ME users: The security offered on these platforms is insufficient for the protection of your data. The best option for these platforms would be to rely on other forms of protection, such as encryption.

Internet Security

The Internet opens up a host of security issues, but since the security problems are so prevalent there are many good solutions. We will now take a look at a few of them.

Firewalls protect things called ports. Ports are what your computer uses to access the Internet. To view a webpage, for example, your computer connects to the website’s computer through port 80. Programs called Trojans can open ports on your computer and let people get into your computer and do whatever they want, including stealing passwords and credit cards. With a firewall, you can close most ports and protect your computer from Internet attacks. A firewall that I highly recommend is Zone Lab’s free firewall called ZoneAlarm. It can be found at Zone Lab’s website, http://www.zonelabs.com.

Anti-Virus software:
Ah… its name rings like poetry in my ear… but seriously, anti-virus software is seriously serious business. Seriously. No way around it, you need to be protected! Anti-virus software is not the be all end of computer security, nor was it meant to be. However, it is a major and powerful form of defense against viruses, trojans, and worms. Now let’s talk money… the universal language. Most anti-virus products cost money and a subscription cost… so check around for the best deals. However, the most prominent anti-virus software products are Norton Anti-virus (http://www.symantec.com/) and McAffee (http://www.mcafee.com). But for you people who can’t live without freebies, try AVG by Grisoft (http://www.grisoft.com/). The personal version is free… and awesome. Literally… no joke… free. Wow. Try them all and decide which one you like the best. After you have one, setup auto scan if it isn’t setup already. Okay, now you are ready! Concentrate, and become one with the force!

Spyware protection:
Spyware… that this stuff can just be plain nasty. These are the programs that discover information about you and send it to their evil masters. Beware! Danger, Will Robinson! Now, lets talk about ways to destroy them. People will have day-long arguments over which product to use, but the two main programs (both free!) are Spybot: Search and Destroy (cool name – http://www.safer-networking.org/en/index.html) and Ad-aware (http://www.lavasoftusa.com/software/adaware/). Try them both, and see which one you like.

Now for the most powerful security tool… listen carefully… this is powerful! COMMON SENSE! Firewalls, anti-virus software, and spyware protection is useless against social engineering. Social engineering is conning a person into compromising their security. Now I know what you are saying, why would someone ever compromise their security because some stranger told them to do so!?!? It doesn’t make sense… but it happens. All the time. Think about some e-mail messages you might have gotten… “I Luuuuv you!” “Your pictures are inside!” “I saw your profile…” If a virus is attached, and you download it hoping to see something and you see something quite different, you have been the victim of social engineering. Most social engineering attacks are more powerful and dangerous, but you get the idea.

Checklist to protect yourself:
___ Set a bios password.
___ Change startup to hard disk.
___ Set password on user accounts.
___ Disable guest account.
___ Download and setup firewall.
___ Download and setup anti-virus software.
___ Download and setup spyware remover.
___ Use common sense!
Remember, security is not a destination, it is a journey.

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