10 Steps to Protecting Your Computer
Everyone must read this! Don't skip it...don't tell yourself that you are safe...
Your inaction could cause great harm...
At home, your identity, your money, and your personal information could be at risk. At work, your patient's medical information could be at risk!
No, these are not "the sky is falling" rants...they are serious facts about today's computer world...and they directly affect each member of the Society of Diagnostic Medical Sonography (SDMS). Most computer users don't give security a second thought but the reality is that failure to take some simple steps could result in identity theft or worse.
Hackers have thousands of tools at their disposal to take advantage of you including tools such as keystroke loggers. Keystroke loggers record every single keystroke you type on your computer...this includes your private email messages, your bank account password, and your credit card number! If you are connected to the Internet via a high-speed connection (DSL or cable), hackers can turn your computer into a "zombie" to launch attacks against thousands of other users and computers.
This article focuses on Microsoft Windows users since the majority of computer users today use a version of this operating system on their home and/or office computers. And while not as frequent targets of hackers, alternative operating systems such as Mac OS and Linux are also vulnerable to attack.
10 Steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Update your computer - Stop using computers with insecure operating systems such as Microsoft Windows 95, Windows 98, and Windows ME. These versions of Microsoft Windows are now so old and outdated, they cannot be considered secure. Every day you use your computer may put you at risk. Upgrade your computer to Windows XP Service Pack 2 (or consider buying a new PC with it already installed). UPDATE 02/01/2007: Microsoft has now released a new operating system - Vista - which is designed to replace Windows XP and is supposed to be more secure.
- Update Microsoft Windows - Even with the newest computer, there are updates to be applied. There have been significant security holes discovered in all versions of Windows so it's important to update your computer's operating system as soon as possible. Regardless of the version of Windows you use, visit the Microsoft's Windows Update website (http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com) and install all "critical patches." You should also consider installing the recommended and driver patches. Note: It's always a good idea to backup your important data before installing updates (see Step #9). Keep in mind that even with Windows XP, there may be more than 80 patches that need to be installed...although the process is fairly automated, downloading the patches could take many hours on a dial-up Internet account. You may not be able to install patches for Windows on your work computer (requires administrator priviledges) but you should ask your network administrator about their plans to keep your work computer up-to-date.
- Use antivirus software - No one should be without antivirus software on their computer. There are many commercial products that can help protect your computer from various viruses, worms, trojans and other hacker tools. But antivirus software works based on known viruses...the software must be configured to update its database of what to look for...be sure to configure your anti-virus software to update itself at least daily. And plan to run a complete system check of your computer's hard disks at least once per month to make sure nothing slipped in between antivirus software updates.
Online Antivirus Checkups
- Block Spyware - spyware and viruses often go hand-in-hand but can take many forms. Some 'hijack' your web browser and redirects you to their website. Others quietly download and install trojans, keylogger programs, etc. to your computer so hackers can take control of your computer later. Install and run an anti-spyware program such as:
- Keep your software up-to-date
Microsoft Office: Many computer users use a version of the popular Microsoft Office suite (Outlook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint, or Publisher). Microsoft has released many patches for the Microsoft Office suite including some for "critical" security issues as well as "stability and performance enhancements." Note that you may need your original Microsoft Office installation CD to complete the updates.
Adobe Reader: Acrobat PDF files are used extensively on the SDMS website and throughout the Internet. Adobe Reader 8 can be used to view/print these files. You should not be using older versions - a free upgrade is available.
Flash: Adobe Flash Player is used on many website, including the ARDMS, to provide a more interactive web experience. Serious security issues have been found in older versions of the Flash viewer.
Use a firewall - A firewall simply tries to block hackers from entering or using your computer. If you are using cable or DSL connections to the Internet, a hacker can attempt to break-in to your computer 24x7! Make sure you have a router/firewall properly installed and configured. The most common mistake home users make is buying a router/firewall but never resetting the default password...it's like leaving the keys in the door! You can also use a software-based firewall to protect your computer from hackers. Microsoft's scheduled release of its Service Pack #2 for Windows XP in August will include a simple software-based firewall designed to better protect your computer. Some software-based firewalls include:
- Use complex passwords - whether at work or at home, use complex passwords (and never write them down!). Using a password longer than 8 characters can greatly reduce the chance that someone will guess your password. Hackers don't usually sit there and try to guess your password one at a time. They use automated brute force tools that can break a simple password in a few minutes to a few hours. Here's an example of a complex password: 1mSdM5m3MbEr (Hint: I am SDMS member)
You should change your password at least every 3 months and never reuse old passwords...be creative, come up with something new!
Tip: Never use the same (or similar) password at home and work...if one is compromised, then both are compromised...
Tips for Creating Secure Passwords
Use "Personal Biometric Devices" -
If you use the Internet for online banking, purchases, etc., remembering all your passwords can be difficult. Personal biometric devices that use fingerprints are great tools to assist you in protecting your computer and easily storing your passwords ($50 to $150).
Backup your important data often - Diskettes are no longer practical for backup - a CD recordable (CD-R) drive can help quickly backup your important data (700 MB per disc or equivalent to 485 diskettes). DVD recordable drives are also available (~7 times as much as a CD or equivalent to 3200 diskettes!) Other options include external USB hard drives to store all of your "data", documents, photos, music as well as USB "thumb" drives that you can carry on your keychain.
- Enlist the support of experts - all this can be scary...hackers and even unexpected problems with security patches could potentially mess up your system rendering it unusable! And it's time consuming...with over 80 patches to Windows XP, the download and installations can take hours. Don't be afraid to enlist the assistance of experts. Check with your local computer or electronics store. There are many companies that specialize in providing home user support such as Geeks on Call: http://www.geeksoncall.com/resserv.htm
Note: SDMS does not endorse any of the products or websites listed in this article.