Now or never

The WINDOWS team reveals ten security moves you should make right now and six you should never take...

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By  Cleona Godinho Published  December 14, 2007

The web is a two-way street. It lets you connect to websites easily but it also lets others connect to you. With over 150,000 known viruses and more than 85 million phishing e-mails being sent out per day, the probability of an unsecured machine being attacked is extremely high. According to Symantec, it takes only 20 minutes for an unprotected PC to be attacked once connected to the web.

Aside from protecting your PC from internet threats, you also need to ensure its physical safety to prevent unauthorised access and data theft.
To help you build a protective barrier around your rig, we spoke to key regional security players, including Eset, Symantec and MicroWorld, and asked each firm to reveal their top security tips. First we cover the top ten PC security moves you need to make right now. Then we cover the top six moves you should stay clear of. Hop onto your PC right now and let's get started. Remember, it's now or never.

NOW

Use up-to-date anti-virus software

In addition to installing anti-virus software from a reputable firm such as Eset or McAfee on your PC, you also need to make sure you set the app to automatically receive security updates on a daily basis. New trojans, viruses and worms appear every day. (If you're in search of a highly regarded free anti-virus program try PC Tools Anti-virus Free edition 3.1, available at download.com)

Neo Neophytou, managing director of ADAOX ME, explains, "In order for an anti-virus system to provide optimal protection, it is essential that the virus signatures are current. If virus signatures are not consistently updated, computers can be exposed to the newest malware threats, millions of which are created daily."

Another piece of software that you need to update regularly is your operating system. By regularly updating it you prevent hackers from taking advantage of system flaws or holes. Therefore, make sure you regularly visit windowsupdate.microsoft.com for patches and critical updates. Alternatively, you can turn on Automatic Updates in Windows XP. To do this, navigate to Start/Control Panel/Automatic Updates and check the ‘Automatic (Recommended) option and select ‘Everyday', followed by the ‘Update time' of your choice.

Create strong passwords and change them often

Indian-based security firm MicroWorld and Symantec both recommend that you change your PC and web passwords every 90 days to prevent your system from being hacked. Remember, a password can only keep intruders out if it's complicated and difficult to guess. Also, don't use one password for all your accounts.

As a rule of thumb, a strong password should include a minimum of eight characters, read like absolute gibberish and use a combination of upper and lower case letters and numbers. For instance, qh8JhDg or hf975jdH.

Moreover, don't share passwords with others; this includes your friends and family. Your password is there for a reason; to keep your data under lock and key.

Watch out for fraudulent e-mails

Phishing scams use fraudulent e-mails and websites, masquerading as legitimate businesses, to lure you into revealing personal and financial information such as credit card numbers and bank account details. No matter how strong your PC's security, you still might visit a phishing website without knowing it.

Secure your wireless network

If you use a wireless network at home, it's key that you protect it from freeloaders and drive-by hackers. The first step to securing your router is to change its default username and password. To do this, simply run through your router's set-up and installation wizard. If your router doesn't include this, then connect to it via your web browser and change the login information. (Note: some firms' routers only let you change the password.)

Next, change the default SSID (Service Set Identifier), because with the default login information, many firms use a generic SSID for all their routers. (For instance, Belkin might use ‘MyBelkin'.) Hackers are well aware of this standard naming practice, so if you leave the default SSID alone, it won't take long for a hacker to figure it out.

To change the default SSID to something unique, you need to enter your router's administration console. This is usually done via your browser; just type http://192.168.1.1 into the address bar. (Note: the default IP address may vary by vendor.) Next, enter your username and password and navigate to the Settings tab. The actual steps might be different depending on the make of your router, so we recommend referring to your device's manual. Here are the steps for a Linksys WRT300N Wireless-N router:

• Click on the Wireless tab and then hit the ‘Basic settings' tab in the sub menu.

• Enter your new SSID in the Network name (SSID) field. When choosing your new SSID make sure it is unique. Include a combination of letters and numbers and make sure it doesn't include your name or the word 'wireless'.

• On the same screen select the Disable option next to the ‘SSID broadcasting' field. Next, click the ‘Save Settings' button. That's it. Your network is now secure.

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