Your computer, and your dustbin, may be rifled through more readily than you expect. Take precautions to protect all your data by destroying sensitive data and preventing external programs and users from accessing your computer.
Internet banking is more popular than ever, and so our financial transactions are subject to threats paper-based banking never encountered. Fortunately, it’s possible to guard against these with some smart tips to safeguard your computer and your details.
Viruses can corrupt your files and your whole machine
Anti-virus software is absolutely essential to protect your PC and you. Viruses corrupt and infect your files by attaching themselves to programs on your computer, with varying effects. Worms are programs that replicate themselves over a network, and can cause problems for everyone on that network.
Protecting yourself from viruses, and virus-bearing spam, by installing the correct software, and then ensuring you always keep it up to date. It’s easy to forget updates, but a lapse could have dire consequences for your PC.
Spyware can steal your personal information from under your nose
Spyware is a type of program that can sneak onto your computer when you open emails or visit websites. It can then be used by the originator to find out your passwords and personal details, so that they can conduct all types of fraud and identity theft. It’s often hard to spot when your computer has been affected, but the results become only too evident.
You can safeguard your machine by installing anti-spyware programs, and also by setting your internet options to only accept cookies from sites you trust.
Firewalls protect your privacy, so keep them on at all times
When you’re connected to the internet it can be possible for people to connect to your machine, and therefore its contents. Fortunately many operating systems include a firewall as standard which can block out these snoopers and their devious intentions when activated. If your computer doesn’t already have one, firewalls are easy to source online and are a vital precaution.
Wireless networks are easy to tap into if they aren’t secured
Wireless networks aren’t always as secure as you’d hope, so it’s important that you only send or receive sensitive information in places you know the network is one you can trust. It’s always advisable to keep whatever device you are using in its non-discoverable mode when you’re not using it, and to use a PIN to keep it locked to anyone but you.
If you really need to connect in a public place or an unsecured network, don’t exchange any sensitive data.
Spam is not always harmless, and scams are rife
Spam emails make up a staggering proportion of the world’s email traffic, and a lot of those are out to get you!
A particularly virulent scam is phishing. These emails are designed to look like they come from your bank or another service provider and often provide links to fake websites for these organisations. They’ll ask you to confirm details such as your password or account details, but it’s worth remembering that your bank would never ask for this information, and certainly not in a poorly-formatted email!
If you receive a phishing email, ignore and delete it. If you feel you’d like to report it, seek a number for the organisation being imitated on their official website.
Email from senders you don’t know can often also be delivering a scam. You may receive all sorts of heart-felt pleas or schemes in which you stand to be made staggeringly rich, but remember, no reputable firm will ask for bank details or sensitive data in this way. Any attachments on these mails should be left unopened, as they could potentially hold viruses.
And the final tip to avoid spam getting the better of you; never reply. Replies let spammers know your email address is in use and valid, and encourage a whole new inbox full of nuisance mail.
Office may share more data than you’d like
Word documents, Excel charts and Powerpoint presentations can all reveal more than you intended when you share them with someone else. It’s often possible to track all the changes made to a Word document, and even to see the entire spreadsheet behind a simple Excel chart pasted into Powerpoint.
If you’re concerned about this it’s best to either convert your document to a PDF, which can only be read by the recipient, and not manipulated in any way, or to find a plug-in to strip out hidden content. Office users can search www.microsoft.co.uk for these.
Keep a tidy computer
When an item is put in your computer’s recycle bin, that’s not the end of it. It can be retrieved, and is still present in your computer’s memory. For this reason it’s best to use a clean-up program to ensure you have fresh disk space with no hidden rubbish. If you need to leave your computer in someone else’s hands, such as a repair firm, ensure you have removed all personal and sensitive data comprehensively before handing it over.
Dispose of old computer equipment carefully
When you’ve finished with your computer, selling it or giving away is certainly a good option. However, always be aware that it’s possible for those with the skills to retrieve all sorts of data from your old hard drive, or any disks you’ve disposed of. Your local council can help with secure disposal, and remember that physically destroying the equipment is the only 100% safe method.
Small is beautiful, but it may not be safe
Portable storage devices like USB sticks and key rings are very convenient, but being pocket–sized makes them easier to lose. If the data that you’ve kept on them is sensitive, keep them as safe as you would your own personal documents.
Finally, keep your paper as secure as your PC
Identity theft is aided by the fact that so many UK households throw away documents containing their personal details or financial information. Your PC may be spotless and impenetrable to fraudsters but it’s worth remembering that the paper you put in the bin can contain the same details.
Shredding is the safest option, and small paper shredders are easy to come by in the high street. Destroy anything containing details that could lead to identity theft, such as your name, address and any financial information, even if it’s just junk mail.
A last step to ensuring your identity is secure and you’ve not been subject to fraud is to check your credit report. Many people have never done so, but it’s the best way to discover if any activities, such as mysterious loans or credit, have gone on in your name for which you’re not responsible. This sort of fraud could affect your ability to get credit, so it’s worth checking to make sure everything on the report is above board.
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