Cyber Security at Home

Five Basic Steps to Secure Computing at Home

1) Use Security Software

Anti-Virus Software

Anti-virus software is used to detect, prevent, and remove harmful software from your computer. It is important to keep your anti-virus definitions up to date since harmful software can spread rapidly.

Anti-Spyware Software

Spyware is a specific type of harmful software that attempts to monitor your computer activity, hijack your web browser and/or steal your sensitive information such as credit card numbers and passwords. Many of the anti-virus software suites come prepackaged with anti-spyware software.

Firewall

A firewall attempts to block unwanted network traffic from reaching your PC. Firewalls can be a physical or software component, depending on how you connect to the Internet from home. If you use a router, you are already using a basic firewall. Software firewalls installed on your PC will not only block unwanted incoming traffic, but they will also attempt to prevent unwanted outgoing traffic from unauthorized, potentially harmful software.

2) Keep your Operating System Patched

Auto-Update

Harmful software can infect your computer if you do not keep the operating system patched. If you enable auto-update within your computer's operating system preferences, you can be assured that you will have the latest patches.

3) Use Strong Passwords

Memorable Only by You

When you create a new password, use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols if possible. Where applicable, always try to make your password at least eight characters in length. One method to create a password is to think of a sentence you can easily remember. Take the first or last letters of the words in the sentence and a number that you can easily remember that is not associated with you. For example, "Uncle Bill drove his 1937 Ford every Sunday" would turn into the password "UBdh37FeS".

4) Be Aware of Phishing Scams

Phishing scams attempt to steal your sensitive information by luring you to an online form. Email has become the most widely used method of enticing individuals to these scams. If any of the following are true, you should immediately raise your suspicions:

5) Use Encryption Whenever Possible

Encryption provides protection against unauthorized individuals from accessing your data. There are three primary areas that should be encrypted:

Wi-Fi

If you are using a wireless router or access point at home, make sure that you have enabled wireless encryption. If possible, use WPA/WPA2 over WEP. Without wireless encryption, anyone can join your network and use your Internet connection for malicious activity. A malicious individual could also obtain your sensitive information.

External/Mobile Storage Devices

If you are storing personal information on an external hard drive or a USB flash drive, encrypt the data. Most USB flash drives come installed with basic encryption software. For external hard drives or for more advanced encryption for USB flash drives, check out TrueCrypt, a free open-source disk encryption software.

Personal Account Login Forms

All websites requiring a login should be using encryption. You can protect yourself by knowing when a login form is not encrypted. When you navigate to a secure form, you will always see "https://" rather than "http://" within your browser's address box. In addition, most browsers will have a padlock icon, displaying the status of the secure connection.

To learn more about secure computing, please visit the Resources page.