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

Strengthen your browser's security

Your browser is your main internet-facing app, which means you need to beef up its security. Like any app, a browser has certain flaws, which hackers often use to enter you system and download malicious software such as key loggers and more.

If you're using Internet Explorer (IE) 6 we highly recommend moving to IE 7, as its security has been beefed up significantly. Firstly, the new version comes with an anti-phishing feature, which displays a warning webpage and turns the address bar red if you visit a known phishing site. If you visit a suspected phishing site however, the address bar turns yellow. Although IE 7 is more secure than IE 6, there are always ways to make it safer. Here are three top tweaks you should make:

1. If you're using IE 7 as supplied with Windows Vista, then be sure to turn on Protected Mode. This runs IE in isolation from other apps and restricts exploits and malicious software from writing to any location beyond Temporary Internet Files without your explicit consent.

2. Tweak the Custom Level settings. You can check out a recommended settings list at http://surfthenetsafely.com/ieseczone8.

3. Use McAfee Site Advisor, available at mcafee.com. This nifty little tool is the perfect addition to your web weaponry.

The app sits at the bottom of your browser and flags up the safety rating of the site you currently have open. Green denotes a safe site, yellow signifies a site which is guilty of minor infractions, while denotes danger zones. This colour-coded system also appears in Google search results and other search engines such as Yahoo. The app works with both Internet Explorer and Firefox.

Download cautiously

Nowadays there are thousands of great freeware apps available online, however you need to be cautious about which apps you download and from where. Why? Many spammers or hackers often hide malicious software, such as key loggers and spyware, and then offer these online for free. With this in mind, only use well-known websites such as www.download.com or www.vnunet.com to download apps. Moreover, if you regularly use P2P (peer-to-peer) sites such as Kazaa or Limewire (which we don't recommend), make sure you scan files for viruses, worms or spyware before you open them.

NEVER

Never leave it unlocked

If you step away from your work PC for a couple of minutes, there is enough time for a passer by to access your system.

Securing your home and office PC prevents your kids or co-workers from accidentally deleting or corrupting your files. Therefore, always make sure you lock your PC before you take a break by pressing the Windows key + L (or Alt + Ctrl +Delete, followed by the ‘Lock Desktop' button).

Never open spam e-mails

Since spammers track most spam e-mails, not opening them will make them think that your e-mail address is inactive, which in turn will stop them from spamming your account further.

Besides saving you from more spam, not opening the e-mails also prevents infecting your PC, as some spammers insert tracking programs in their e-mails, which activate when an e-mail is opened.

These types of e-mails can also contain malicious code that converts a PC into a ‘zombie' system. This zombie PC then connects to a specific website that starts using your machine to send out spam messages to others without your knowledge.

However, simply not opening a message isn't enough. You also need to disable your e-mail viewer's ‘Preview Message' feature, as some spammers include a web bug in their e-mails to see whether or not a message has been previewed.

Another way to protect yourself against spammers is to avoid sharing your e-mail address via public websites. According to security firm Computer Associates, many such websites sell e-mail addresses to database companies. Some of these sites are in fact database creators posing as public websites, which then send spam and phishing attacks back to your PC. Therefore, only share your e-mail address with websites that you trust and that have a publicly stated policy covering e-mail data protection.

We also recommend installing an effective anti-spam tool on your PC such as Spamihilator, available at Spamihilator.com or Spam fighter (Spamfighter.com).

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