Common Computer Security Mistakes

Computer security mistakes can be a painful and costly experience. While computer viruses have been around since well before the Web, the growth of web traffic and email usage have accelerated the distribution of malicious software or “malware.” The good news is that with a bit of thought, planning and vigilance you can effectively protect yourself. Here are common computer security mistakes to avoid.


No Antivirus/antispyware software.

This might elicit a “duh,” from most people but there are those who still don’t run antivirus software. However, the other key facet of this element of computer protection is keeping your software and virus definitions up to date. Most worthwhile anti-malware programs (the term “malware” includes viruses, spyware, Trojan horses, keystroke loggers and other forms of malicious software) make it easy to check the date of your last update and to easily launch the update process manually.

Since most anti-malware/antivirus software is sold on an annual basis you need to purchase a new license each year. If you let your license lapse you will be unprotected against any new malware. So even if you have an active antivirus program, but it expired six months ago, you will not be protect from any new viruses or malware that were released in the last six months since it expired. A definite security mistake.

No Firewall software.

Some people feel that having an antivirus program is all they need. A definite computer security mistake. Firewall software acts as a filter to protect your computer from malware and intruders. If some form of malware does get on your computer, firewall software can prevent malicious programs from connecting to the Internet.

Firewall software is particularly effective at blocking Trojan horse software. This common form of malware can transfer data files off your computer without your knowledge or permission and download other malicious files and programs onto your computer. A software firewall on your computer is a key element in blocking these types of programs from getting access to the Internet. Like antivirus software, the firewall software must be updated regularly. This is all the more reason to use anInternet security suite which ties these two important elements together for updating and renewing.

Firewalls can be either software based or hardware based. Software firewalls can be a standalone program but more commonly are part of an Internet Security Suite. A hardware firewall is a device that is connected between the Internet and your computer and normally is included as part of a network router. For a more in-depth look at computer firewalls, both software and hardware based, see our post on “Computer Firewalls – Security Basics”

Not keeping Microsoft Windows up to date through the Microsoft Updates process.

Microsoft produces software updates, patches and bug fixes for its products on a regular basis. Updates are free and can be manually downloaded or Windows can be set to automatically download and install them. By default the Windows XP automatic update process does not check for Microsoft Office updates. You need to configure this manually. The Windows Vista Updates process does automatically ask you to check for Office updates.

Periodically Microsoft combines a group of these “updates,” adds some additional functionality and features, and delivers them in what is known as a Service Pack (SP). We strongly recommend that you install all service packs as they become available. Without the benefits that these service packs provide your system will be much more susceptible to problems from instability, degraded performance, and security breaches. While it is not essential to install a Service Pack the moment it becomes available you should not put this off too long as future Microsoft updates may require having the most current Service Pack installed first.

Microsoft releases brand new versions of its software products periodically. For instance Microsoft Office has evolved from Office 2000 to 2002 (XP) to 2003 to Office 2007. While it is not always essential to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft Office or Microsoft Windows it is strongly recommended that you do keep current with the latest version of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser which is now up to version 8.0. At the very least no one should still be using Internet Explorer 6.0 as it presents serious security compromises to a computer. See our post on “Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 Released” for additional information on IE 8.

If you use the Mozilla Firefox browser, which is an excellent alternative to Internet Explorer, be sure to keep up with the latest updates and version through Firefox Updates. Firefox users should also check out our post on “30 Firefox Keyboard Shortcuts.” If you are using a browser other than Internet Explorer or Firefox be sure to check with the software publisher (such as Apple or Google) to keep up to date.

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