By Officer Larry Jacobs
The Internet is a great tool for researching,staying in touch and just about anything else you can think of.
The danger is that it can be a dangerous place to hang out in unless you know the ins and outs of how to protect yourself and your family online.
The following guidelines come from the US Department of Homeland Security.
• Use and maintain anti-virus software and a firewall – Protect yourself against viruses and “Trojan horses” that may steal or modify the data on your own computer and leave you vulnerable by using anti-virus software and a firewall. Make sure to keep your virus definitions up to date.
• Regularly scan your computer for spyware – Spyware or adware hidden in software programs may affect the performance of your computer and give attackers access to your data. Use a legitimate anti-spyware program to scan your computer and remove any of these files. Many anti-virus products have incorporated spyware detection.
• Keep software up to date – Install software patches so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. Many operating systems offer automatic updates. If this option is available, you should turn it on.
• Evaluate your software’s settings – The default settings of most software enable all available functionality. However, attackers may be able to take advantage of this functionality to access your computer. It is especially important to check the settings for software that connects to the internet (browsers, email clients, etc.). Apply the highest level of security available that still gives you the functionality you need.
• Avoid unused software programs – Do not clutter your computer with unnecessary software programs. If you have programs on your computer that you do not use, consider uninstalling them. In addition to consuming system resources, these programs may contain vulnerabilities that, if not patched, may allow an attacker to access your computer.
• Consider creating separate user accounts – If there are other people using your computer, you may be worried that someone else may accidentally access, modify, and/or delete your files. Most operating systems (including Windows XP and Vista, Mac OS X, and Linux) give you the option of creating a different user account for each user, and you can set the amount of access and privileges for each account. You may also choose to have separate accounts for your work and personal purposes.
• Establish guidelines for computer use – If there are multiple people using your computer, especially children, make sure they understand how to use the computer and internet safely. Setting boundaries and guidelines will help to protect your data.
• Use passwords and encrypt sensitive files – Passwords and other security features add layers of protection if used appropriately. By encrypting files, you ensure that unauthorized people can’t view data even if they can physically access it. You may also want to consider options for full disk encryption, which prevents a thief from even starting your laptop without a passphrase. When you use encryption, it is important to remember your passwords and passphrases; if you forget or lose them, you may lose your data.
• Follow corporate policies for handling and storing work-related information – If you use your computer for work-related purposes, make sure to follow any corporate policies for handling and storing the information.
• Dispose of sensitive information properly – Simply deleting a file does not completely erase it. To ensure that an attacker cannot access these files, make sure that you adequately erase sensitive files.
Officer Larry Jacobs is a crime prevention specialist with the Crime Prevention Unit of the Sandy Springs Police Department. He can be reached at lJacobs@sandyspringag.gov