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Procedures to Follow

There are some simple but important things which everyone needs to get into the habit of doing. Doing these things is vital to keeping your computer running smoothly. There's no fancy software or hardware involved, just a few simple habits which should be considered standard operating procedures for anyone who uses a computer.

Keeping Your Computer Updated

Service packs are software updates for the Windows operating system. They update many different parts of Windows and fix any newly discovered security holes. Keeping your Windows updated is one of the most important measures you can take to avoid security problems. It also ensures smooth operation of your computer by fixing any other mistakes that have been discovered in the programming.

For Windows 2000 and XP users, you can actually tell the computer to keep itself updated automatically. For a instructions on how to turn on Authomatic Updates click here.

For older versions of Windows (such as Windows 95 or Windows 98), you may have to manually run the updates. Luckily, Microsoft has made updating your computer fairly easy. If you are using a current version of Internet Explorer, you can access the online Windows Update page quite easily. While in Internet Explorer, look under 'Tools' - you will see 'Windows Update'. If you do not have this option, you may go directly to the following site:

http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com

Many problems have arisen from viruses and Trojan horse programs that come attached to Microsoft Office files like Word or Excel. These programs exploit areas in Office that allow them to do a great deal of damage on the computer. Microsoft Office also needs to be updated to prevent this from happening. An online update web page also exists for Office, much like the one for Windows, but the only ways to get to the Office update page is to either:

Go to: http://officeupdate.microsoft.com

OR

Go to: Windows Update Website then click the Office Family link

Although Windows updates itself to help prevent problems, it does not have any built-in capacity to scan for viruses. Viruses you may already have and threats Microsoft hasn't found a solution for will remain even after regular Windows updates. A third-party antivirus program is essential for keeping your computer happy and virus free. To learn more about Antivirus programs, browse our Antivirus section.

Backups

There are many ways you can unintentionally lose information on a computer: a child playing the keyboard like a piano, a power surge, lightning, floods, viruses, and sometimes equipment just fails. If you regularly make backup copies of your files and keep them in a separate place, you can get most, if not all, of your information back in the event something happens to the originals on your computer.

Deciding what to back up is highly personal. Anything you cannot replace easily should be at the top of your list. Before you get started, make a checklist of files to back up. This will help you determine what to back up, and also give you a reference list in the event you need to retrieve a backed-up file. Here are some file suggestions to get you started:

  • Bank records and other financial information
  • Digital photographs
  • Software you don't already have on disk
  • Music you downloaded from the Internet
  • Personal projects
  • Your address book
  • Anything else you do not want to be without

You can store your backup copies in: external hard drives, CDs, DVDs, or any other storage format you feel comfortable with.

To do the actual backup, you can simply copy files from your hard drive to the disk (or other media) drive you're storing a copy on. The exact process for this varies from computer to computer, and there are usually several different ways to perform the same operation. If you're backing up to an external hard drive the process could be as simple as:

 

  1. Plug in external hard drive.
  2. Go to 'My Computer' and open external hard drive.
  3. Drag & Drop files you want to backup.

However, for a CD or DVD backup you may need to use software such as Nero or Roxio and go through all the steps required by the particular program installed on your system. For precise instructions, check the help section of your software. There's also usually a Wizard that will walk you through step-by-step.

If you have XP there's further information here: Window's XP Backup Made Easy

Everyone can get some useful tips from: Microsoft's Backup Basics

Protect Yourself Against Phishing

  1. Never respond to requests for personal information via email. Microsoft and most legitimate businesses will never ask for passwords, credit card numbers, or other personal information in an email. If you do receive an email requesting this kind of information, don't respond. If you think the email is legitimate, contact the company by phone or through their Web site to confirm.
  2. Visit Web sites by typing the web address into your address bar. DO NOT follow the link given in the email. Even if the email appears to be legitimate and the address looks like the right address, there are ways to fake emails and make an incorrect address appear in the address bar.
  3. Check to make sure the Web site is using encryption. Before you enter any personal information, check to see if the Web site uses encryption to transmit your personal information. If it's not encrypted anyone with the know-how can view what you are entering. In Internet Explorer you can do this by checking the yellow lock icon on the status bar as shown in the following illustration:

    If the lock is closed, then the site uses encryption. Double-click the lock icon to display the security certificate for the site. The name following 'Issued to' should match the site you think you're on. If the name differs, you may be on a spoofed site. If you're not sure whether a certificate is legitimate, don't enter any personal information. Play it safe and leave the Web site. To find out more ways to determine if a site is safe, read How Internet Explorer Keeps your Data Safe.
  4. Routinely review your credit card and bank statements. Even if you follow the three steps above, you may still become a victim of identity theft. If you review your bank statement and credit card statements at least monthly, you may be able to catch a scam artist and stop them before they cause significant damage.
  5. Report suspected abuses of your personal information to the proper authorities. If you feel you have been a victim of a phishing scam, you should:
    1. Immediately report the scam to the company that's being spoofed.
    2. Provide details of the scam, such as the emails you received, to the FBI through the Internet Fraud Complaint Center.
    3. If you feel your personal information has been stolen, you should also report the circumstances to the FTC and browse the site to learn how you can minimize the damage.

Avoid Spyware and Adware

  • Make sure the programs you install don't contain adware. Many freeware programs do include adware. It's how the publishers make their money. If you're not sure, read the license agreement and publisher's website carefully. If you're still not sure, Google for the name of the program and the keywords adware or spyware. If you don't find any postings about it, then you're probably OK.
  • Install a pop-up blocker to prevent adware and spyware pop-up windows. Much spyware installs after you click a deceptive link in a pop-up browser window. There's a pop-up blocker included in XP service pack 2, or you can download free tools such as: Google Toolbar or MSN Toolbar.
  • If you get a window prompting you to download a program, never click 'yes.' Even if the box says the application is from Microsoft, you don't know if the statement is true. If a website isn't displaying properly and you need to download a plugin--go directly to the website of the plugin provider. If the website displays properly, ignore the window.

Prevent Spam from Reaching You

  • Report spam and set spam blocks with your email provider. Different providers have different systems for blocking spam, but all of them--Yahoo!, AOL, MSN, etc.--have some system in place for reducing spam. The more information they get on what is spam, the better.
  • Set up an email address dedicated solely to Web transactions. Consider using a free mail service to set up an email account for your online activities that involve giving strangers your email address. If you get too much spam, you can easily close the account and start a new one.
  • Only share your primary email address with people you know. Avoid listing your e-mail address in large Internet directories. Don't even post it on your own Web site.
  • Disguise your e-mail address. Use a disguised address whenever you post it to a newsgroup, chat room, or bulletin board. For example, you could give your email address as "s0me0ne@example.c0m" using "0" (zero) instead of "o." A person can interpret your address, but the automated programs that spammers use to gather addresses cannot.
  • Watch out for checked boxes. When you buy things online, companies sometimes pre-check boxes to indicate that it's fine to sell or give your email address to third parties. Don't accidentally sign up for spam.
  • Read privacy policies before submitting your email address to a site. If there isn't a privacy policy posted, don't give any personal information.

Password Protection

Are you using weak, easy to guess, passwords?

Most people already know to avoid passwords like: "12345", "lmnop", "qwerty", your name, your birthday, etc.

Did you know that any word found in a dictionary in any language is at risk? Hackers have programs that can run through every known word in every world language in a short span of time. Using these programs, they can discover your password through trial and error.

Simple masking, such as substituting 0 for o or @ for a, isn't an effective means of making your password safe. Hackers have added common practices like that to their program's list of passwords to try.

The only safe passwords are ones that appear to be totally random combinations of letters and numbers, "jkhsi9qw9" or "s4hal23ja" for example. Keep in mind that you will need to remember what your password is, so formulating some sort of pneumonic devise might not be a bad idea.

Once you've created a strong password, keep it strong by changing it periodically and not leaving it where someone else might see it. If it's in an unprotected file on your desktop or written on a scrap of paper--a less than scrupulous co-worker could easily find it and start making purchases on your account.

Back to: Firewalls
Go on to: Part 4: Protecting Your Home Network

This page was designed as a project for LIS5362, Design and Production of Network Multimedia, a class at the Florida State University School of Information Studies. Copyright 2004, All Rights Reserved. Last Updated: Nov 2004.