Security & Privacy, Your Data Exposed

mirrorToday the topics are security and privacy, crucial areas of knowledge, if you want to avoid exposing yourself and your data (email, documents, photos, music, files, etc.) to all manner of badness on the Web.

The 6 areas of knowledge essential for digital survival are:

Any strategy that you develop to take charge of your computer will need to include all of these components—and you will need knowledge in all of these areas as you use computers and the web if your goal is Success in a Digital World™.

It is critical that you have at least the bare minimum of security in place – 1 antivirus software program, 1 firewall program, and 1 antispyware program—to protect against malicious software, or malware. Malware is “designed to infiltrate or damage a computer system without the owner’s consent”.

Having multiple security programs that do the same job is a recipe for disaster. If you try to run two different antivirus programs on the same computer there will usually be conflicts. Antivirus and firewalls run all the time. They are your computer’s guardians so you don’t need them arguing over which way is the best way to protect your computer.

If your computer is acting strangely and you think your it might be infected with a virus, be aware that viruses often cause your installed antivirus software to malfunction. At that point, you can use and online scanner from any of the major vendors to check for viruses on your computer. Trend Micro® and Kaspersky®’s free scanners are two of my favorite places to start.

If you only have antivirus or a firewall as a stand-alone version, then get its complement as quickly as possible. Make sure that your antivirus and firewall stay up-to-date and that your antivirus is set up to scan all email and any new device that you connect to your computer. These days both programs are bundled together as Internet Security Suites by most security companies; a security suite will usually include antispyware protections as well.

Antispyware is important for your privacy. Even careful surfers, can end up on a website that tries to load a spyware program onto your computer. If it’s successful, your passwords can be compromised and your personal data can be intercepted. Keeping bad pieces of code, or malware, off of your computer is much easier than getting rid of it or cleaning up the mess if your privacy is compromised. Several excellent antispyware programs are free, so if you do not have one in your security suite right now you can always add a free one to improve your security and privacy strategy.

Rankings for security and privacy software change all the time, and vary by version of the software. So rather than assume that any particular vendor is best, you need to do some research based on your needs. When you need to buy a security suite or program, look to trusted tech sources like, PC Magazine, and PC World for recent ratings. When you are shopping for a new security suite, make sure it has antivirus, firewall and antispyware capabilities.

Free security software is a viable option for many people, but you will usually get more vendor support and more user-friendly interfaces from versions that you purchase. If you can’t afford to purchase security, the same rules apply. Look to trusted sources to see what free programs get the best ratings.

NEVER download “security” software unless it comes recommended by a trusted source. Criminals often try to pass of malware as “security” software, so do your research and don’t fall for that scam. Always search the name of the software by itself, and the name with the word “complaints” or “scam”. A simple search will often turn up consumer complaints about fake security programs and save you untold headaches.

Until you are confident in your knowledge of your specific security program, open your security programs, start the updates manually and when they finish, run a full virus scan of your computer and restart it at least once a week.

Some Internet service providers, like Comcast® have started providing security software for their customers to download for no additional fee. Everybody loses when computers are infected, so whoever provides you with Internet access has every reason to want to keep their system clean by keeping your safe.

Security programs are just part of keeping your system secure. Updating your software programs to take advantage of security fixes is also a necessary task. One by one go through your programs and update each one. Start with the operating system updates, and when they finish restart your computer.

Pay close attention to keeping your browser up-to-date (particularly Internet Explorer®), because you rely on your browser to surf the Internet. If your browser has unpatched security vulnerabilities, your security and privacy are vulnerable.

Taking steps to protect yourself online, and to protect your computer from infected files that others might unwittingly share, amounts to basic common sense. Locking doors, looking both ways before crossing a busy street, driving with headlights in the dark—all just more common sense. So get used to the feeling of empowerment that comes with making informed decisions about preserving your security and privacy. Decide on a couple of trusted industry sources and rely on their expertise to keep your shopping list focused.

Next time, I’ll address fun with information. How to make decisions about what to keep and what to look for, and filing so you can find it again.