Crime

Got a new computer? Here are tips to help keep your data safe

Don't open e-mails or attachments from unknown sources. Protect your computer from internet intruders by using firewalls.
Don't open e-mails or attachments from unknown sources. Protect your computer from internet intruders by using firewalls. MCT File

I recently received emails from several seniors and parents who just got their first computers and share many concerns. Here are do’s and don’ts for new computer users, with information from one of our crime prevention partners, the National Crime Prevention Council:

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Carmen Gonzalez Caldwell

▪ 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 run updates on my computer every other day.

▪ Don’t open emails or attachments from unknown sources. Be suspicious of any unexpected email attachments even if they appear to be from someone you know. Should you receive a suspicious email, 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. An easy way is to shut it down. This lessens the chance that someone will be able to access your personal information. 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. Perhaps use a cloud service such as Dropbox or Microsoft OneDrive. I use a thumb drive; just in case we have a hurricane, I can take it with me. There is nothing worse than losing pictures, information and work when a computer crashes. It happened to me, and you want to cry, which I did.

Lastly, I want to remind all parents that if you gave a computer to your young child or teenager, please make sure that the monitor is somewhere you can see it. Also check with your provider and learn how to block places you don’t want your child to go to, like dangerous websites.

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

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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