Almost everyone these days owns a computer. Just because you own one doesn't mean that you necessarily know how to keep it and your data secure. Follow these steps below!
Keep all programs patched and up to date.
This is probably the most important tip of them all. It is critical to make sure that you always download patches as they become available for the software you are running. Keep your software updated! This ensures that any security vulnerabilities or bug fixes are always patched in your software. The easiest way to do this, is to have the software do this for you or with a patch management program like Patch My PC.
Password Protect Your PC.
You would be surprised how many people don't do this very simple, but effective step of securing their computer. This is very important to do if you travel frequently with your laptop or tablet, or if you live somewhere that you don't want other people to have access to your personal data. You should have some form of password protection enabled on your computer whether it be a password, pin, image, etc. If not anyone can just walk up and gain instant access to all your data. When choosing a password: make sure to choose a password that's not easily guessed, but contains a combination of the following: something between 6-8 characters long, with capital and lower cased letters, symbols, and numbers.
Don't Use Administrator Accounts.
This is just another way to ensure that if you accidentally do click download or open a malicious email; it wont be able to get root access to your computer, because it wont be able to gain the administrator rights to do so. If you are using an administrator account, and malicious software does accidentally get downloaded, it would then automatically gain root access. Meaning, it would have full control to do whatever it wants! Don't use admin accounts unless they are needed to make adjustments to your computer! Otherwise, simply create alternate user accounts on your machine to avoid any issues and you are good to go! Also, if you are like I am and you have multiple people in your household accessing the same computer, having multiple user accounts is a plus! This allows each individual to have their own space and everyone can have what they want, but with out risking the security of your machine.
Enable User Account Control
An easy way to help keep any changes from being made to Windows is by enabling UAC. User Account Control will notify you whenever you or someone else tries to make changes that require administrator level access on the computer it is enabled on. This can be a huge pain sometimes, as you may get multiple pop up UAC windows, but in the long wrong it can help you keep your computer secure. If you need to enable UAC here's a link showing you how to do just that. http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/turn-user-account-control-on-off#1TC=windows-7
Another way that unwanted programs can make it to your computer, is by not unchecking those extra boxes whenever you are downloading a program that you actually do want. This is so annoying! Unchecky was designed to uncheck all of those extra boxes for you. All you need to do is download and install unchecky. Then you will never have to worry about those annoying extra check boxes ever again. Follow the link to see unchecky in action and to find out where to download it. http://unchecky.com/
Keep Your Anti-Virus and Anti-Malware Up to Date!
How can your anti-virus and anti-malware software keep your computer fully protected, if you don't keep it updated?!!! Always, always update your anti-virus and anti-malware software as soon as the updates become available. This is a simple way to protect you and your data, which for most everyone, is their whole life! Well, at least nothing short of every photo you have taken in the past 3-5 years and probably a whole lot of private personal info, such as banking etc. that you certainly don't want compromised! So, keep these both up to date! Otherwise you are leaving yourself open to attack!
Use A Firewall!
A firewall is another layer of protection that helps keep out prying eyes and malicious programs from reaching your computer. Firewalls work by acting like a filter for your computer or network. They allow in/out what you want them to and everything else is blocked. A firewall is an effective, first line of defense in protecting your computer or network. A firewall is a must have in protecting your computer. Windows,OS X, and most Linux based systems come with a firewall application installed. For Windows user's here's a link showing you how to turn on your firewall :http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/turn-windows-firewall-on-off#turn-windows-firewall-on-off=windows-7, this one includes a great explanation of what a firewall is and does, as well as how to activate yours in Windows 8: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-8/windows-firewall-from-start-to-finish. Mac OS X users, here's a link showing you how to turn on your firewall here: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201642. Linux users fear not as Linux based systems also come with their own pre-installed firewall known as iptables. Here's a link showing you how to configure iptables: http://www.howtogeek.com/177621/the-beginners-guide-to-iptables-the-linux-firewall/. Now many people prefer to use third party firewalls. Here's some links discussing some of the more popular third party firewalls: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2422144,00.asp, http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-firewall-protection.htm, http://lifehacker.com/5061933/five-best-windows-firewalls. Another option is to have the firewall turned on in your router of your network. This thwarts most internet threats before they even have the chance to reach your network. The way to do this varies by vendor, so you would need to find that out by going to the router vendors website or calling their support number.
Encrypt Your Data
The best way to ensure that your data stay's safe from prying eyes is to enable some form of encryption on your computer. Encryption is simply a way to ensure that if anyone accesses your data, then it will be unrecogonizable and unaccessible to them. If your using a machine that's running Windows, then you could look into using BitLocker. For more information about BitLocker, including how to set it up, follow this link: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/products/features/bitlocker. Another popular alternative to BitLocker, is VeraCrypt. VeraCrypt is a fork of the now defunct TrueCrypt. Unlike TrueCrypt, VeraCrypt is supposed to have all of the security holes and weaknesses found in the TrueCrypt code patched by it's author. If your interested in VeraCrypt just follow this link: https://veracrypt.codeplex.com/. Outside of encrypting the data on your computer, you may also want to think about encrypting your internet connections. The easiest way to do this is to use a VPN. A VPN(virtual private network) creates a secure tunnel between your computer and your VPN service provider. Any data in this tunnel is encrypted. This ensures that anyone that may be sniffing or snooping on what your doing online, wont be able to see anything but gibberish. This is a very important security step if you travel alot and you connect to open Wi-Fi hotspots. These have no security setup, so anyone can connect to them. This also means that any data sent over them is easily retrievable and is shown in plain text, which is why you should be encrypting your internet connections. Then even if you are connected to an open Wi-Fi hotspot, your data is safe. One of my favorite VPN service providers is CyberGhost, they offer fast speeds and decent prices. You can check out CyberGhost here: http://www.cyberghostvpn.com/en_us. Here is a couple of other popular VPN service providers, although I'm not familiar with them as I've never used them before.
Of course these are but a few of the many VPN service providers available but you get the point. Use these tips to keep your computer and your data safe and secure!