The other day I was driving in my hometown when I saw a sign that read as follows :

“Bullet proof your PC: Call XXX-XXX-XXXX”

After my initial chuckle at how outrageous this claim is, I became somewhat concerned. While the sign was no doubt a marketing gimmick set to entice the “less than computer savvy but still want to download illegal torrents” crowd, this verbiage concerns me because it creates ignorance to computer security. The very notion that you can act as recklessly as you like with your computer and it would remain impenetrable is a complete fallacy. To say your computer is “bullet proof” gives the false notion of security; that no matter what illegal software you install, registry cleaners you employ or shady websites you may visit that your computer will remain steadfast. Just because you have insurance on your car doesn’t mean you can careless when driving does it?

The reality is that so much of computer security has less to do with software, and more about end-user education. Installing and maintaining a piece of anti-virus software is fantastic, but if you are not taking additional precautions and acting prudently then you may find your efforts in vain.

While this list is by no means comprehensive, it is in my opinion that the average person can be reasonably sure their computer is safe if they do the following. I hate seeing people waste their money on computer / virus fear-mongering so I hope this helps keep some computers safe.

  • Keep your Windows installation up to date. Microsoft will release security patches at the very least once a month (the second Tuesday of each month). You should install these patches when they become available.
  • Don’t install Java. Java is not the same as Javascript (common misconception) and I’m willing to bet you don’t need Java. Don’t install what you don’t need, especially with a framework with a security record as tarnished as Java.
  • Keep your web browsers, Adobe Flash and Adobe Reader up-to-date. These are common attack vectors for exploits and keeping these updated will reduce your risk.
  • STAY AWAY FROM ILLEGAL DOWNLOADS. I can’t stress this enough…with the advent of cloud offerings such as Microsoft Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud what used to be expensive software has become much more affordable. You can pay for what you need and cancel if you don’t need it. That key generator you downloaded for a CD Key of Microsoft Office is littered with security concerns so just don’t do it. If you’re going to be cheap and try to rip people off don’t be surprised if you find yourself with a bug.
  • Run anti-virus and keep the definitions up-to-date. Anti-virus should be considered insurance and should not be though of as armor. It’s a helping hand if you should let your guard down, but should not be relied on at all times.
  • Know how to spot fake (spam) emails. Many times fake emails carry with them malicious attachments that can compromise your computer. If an email looks suspicious it likely is. Only open attachments from individuals who you may be expecting email from.

If you have any questions please feel free to email me or leave a comment.