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The 10 Commandments of the Home and Office Computer Security

Step by step guide to improve computer protection in home, office and small business networks using computer security software and... a bit of common sense

What are the most important steps to secure a Microsoft Windows home/office computer? Here is a checklist to increase your overall computer protection. It will make life very difficult for hackers trying to penetrate and control your computer and you will avoid much stress and panic, if and when things go wrong.

1Anti-Virus. The first thing to do, after installing/reinstalling your Windows operating system or purchasing a new computer, is to immediately install an antivirus software to protect your computer when you first connect to the Internet. Most modern antiviruses automatically update themselves, more or less frequently, but whatever you choose, make sure to configure it to run a full scan weekly, or daily for the "free" versions. You might want to read our antivirus reviews, before choosing one.

2Update Windows. Once you have your anti-virus installed, you should connect to the Internet and click on Windows Update. If you bought a copy of Microsoft Office, it would be better to upgrade to Microsoft Update, should Microsoft's website offer to do so. It will make sure that not only Windows, but any other Microsoft's programs are updated with the latest functional and security "patches". To preserve your computer protection, configure Automatic Updates to download and install any update at a certain time of the day, preferably when you are less likely to work on your computer. This will ensure that you don't leave for lunch and come back to see that your machine had restarted while you were away!

3Firewall. Microsoft Windows has a built-in basic firewall, which has one big "flaw": it assumes that every software "running" on your computer is legitimate and entitled to connect to the Internet. It is therefore essential to install a "two-way" firewall software, either stand-alone, or as part of an Internet security suite, which will monitor both inbound and outbound connections. That together with a broadband router with a built-in firewall, will create a very powerful line of protection for your home or small office computer network. You can find some suggestions for a "best-of-breed" or integrated solution in our firewall reviews.

4Antispyware. Installing an effective antispyware has become as important as installing an antivirus. Either as a stand-alone product, or as part of an Internet security suite, it is essential to get a real-time computer protection, to monitor any changes being made to the Windows registry or Internet Explorer. Real-time protection is never part of "free" versions though and the quest for a "freebie" can actually land a tough spyware straight onto your machine, because one of the most effective ways to spread spyware is to camouflage it as a "free" antispyware. By purchasing a reputable antispyware software you will get a solid computer protection, which includes a memory resident program, i.e. a real-time shield, and you won't be installing any spyware with your own hands. For recommendations on what to use, you could either have a look at our dedicated antispyware review section or alternatively head to our antivirus reviews, for an integrated solution.

5Wireless Security. If you have a wireless home network, please make sure to use a WPA-PSK wireless encryption, if possible, to prevent any unauthorized connections to your network or Internet. Even an old WEP key is better than nothing, though, because leaving your wireless network completely "open" provides free access to the Internet to anybody wanting to use someone else's identity, "yours", in the form of your Internet address.

6Backup. Sensible backup is never too much. Buy an external hard drive and use it to backup all your music, video, pictures and office documents. It will come in very handy, not only if your PC becomes infected with a virus and crashes the operating system, but also when your hard disk breaks and you need to re-install Windows. You will be relieved, while painlessly retrieving all your files, without the thought of having lost any of them.

7Encryption. You might keep sensitive data on your PC, like your bank or brokerage account details, employees payroll information, social security numbers, or any other confidential information that you wouldn't want to fall into the wrong hands. Another way to think of this problem is: how would you feel if one day, back home or to your office, you found that your computer had been stolen? Backups would have addressed the panic of retrieving those details for yourself, but what if that info had been accessed by criminals? If that is a disturbing thought, then a solid but easy to use encryption software will make it virtually impossible for someone else to view the content of your important documents.

8Passwords. Despite the temptation (and the convenience) of using always the same, easy to remember password, try using one which is not easy to guess and make it unique. You can do so by adding uppercase letters, numbers and sometimes special punctuation characters to the word, which makes your password much more difficult to crack. This little effort will greatly increase your computer protection withouth even requiring any special computer security software.

9Email Spam. Be sure to set up an email spam filter on your email account. If your email service provider offers you such a filter, please activate it. In its most basic incarnation, an email program like Outlook, will have a Junk filter, which you have to configure. Remember that no software filter can be 100% correct and that the more aggressive the filter, the higher the chances that a legitimate message will be caught in the filter. That's the reason why we recommend that whatever spam filter you use, it should always make it easy for you to check all messages, at any time. If you are a victim of heavy spamming, you might want to consider some more sophisticated filters, which are able to be "trained" and learn from previous messages to discern the good from the bad. Those filters are either available as stand-alone products or as integral part of Internet security suites.

10Software, Music and Video Downloading. If you use Peer to Peer networking programs like Limewire or Kazaa to download music, video and software, you should be aware that a large percentage of those files can contain viruses or spyware. It would be advisable not to connect to those networks, if you haven't installed the best of the best computer security software available on the market. Even so, you would need to keep your eyes wide open, while connected.

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