Crime

A few simple tips to keep your computer safe from hackers and viruses

If you haven't kept your anti-virus software up to date or don't have a firewall in place, someone could infect your computer or use it to harm someone else on the internet.
If you haven't kept your anti-virus software up to date or don't have a firewall in place, someone could infect your computer or use it to harm someone else on the internet. MCT FILE

Last week, I received e-mails from several older people who got their first computers and shared many concerns. Let’s once again go over the dos and don’ts of what needs to be done. I pulled some information from one of our partners, The National Crime Prevention Council, and here are tips you need to take seriously:

▪ Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date. The software is designed to protect your computer against known viruses but, with new viruses emerging daily, anti-virus programs need regular updates. Check with the website of your anti-virus software company to see sample descriptions of viruses and to get regular updates for your software. I do updates on my computer every other day.

▪ Don't open e-mails or attachments from unknown sources. Be suspicious of any unexpected e-mail attachments even if they appear to be from someone you know. Should you receive a suspicious e-mail, the best thing to do is to delete the entire message, including any attachment.

▪ Protect your computer from internet intruders by using firewalls. These create a protective wall between your computer and the outside world. They come in two forms, software firewalls that run on your personal computer and hardware firewalls that protect a number of computers at the same time. Firewalls also ensure that unauthorized persons can't gain access to your computer while you're connected to the internet.

▪ Use hard-to-guess passwords. Mix upper case, lower case, numbers or other characters not easy to find in a dictionary and make sure they are at least eight characters long. Don't share your password and don't use the same password in more than one place. Don't use your maiden name or the names of your mother, your children or your spouse's family. Those are easy to figure out.

▪ Disconnect your computer from the internet when not in use. This lessens the chance that someone will be able to access your computer. Also, if you haven't kept your anti-virus software up to date or don't have a firewall in place, someone could infect your computer or use it to harm someone else on the internet.

▪ Check your security on a regular basis. You should evaluate your computer security at least twice a year. Do it when you change the clocks for daylight savings, just as when you check the batteries in your smoke alarm.

▪ Back up your computer data regularly. I use a thumb drive, just in case we have a hurricane, I can take it with me. There is nothing worse than losing photos, information and work when a computer crashes. It happened to me and you want to cry, which I did.

Last I want to remind all parents that if you gave a computer to your minor child, please make sure it is somewhere you can see it.

For more information on internet safety, log on to www.ncpc.org or email me and I will send you some brochures. Until next week, be safe.

Carmen Caldwell is executive director of Citizens’ Crime Watch of Miami-Dade. Send feedback and news for this column to carmen@citizenscrimewatch.org, or call her at 305-470-1670.

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