Ironwood Tree

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Protect Your Computer (And Your Bank Account)

How to Protect Your Home Computer

Ever since the internet became available to the public, computer crime has soared. Since the internet started out as a limited academic system, there are virtually no safeguards built into the basic protocols. All protections have to be added on. Here are some suggested add-ons and tips to make computing safer for you.

1. Turn on your firewall. Windows and Mac OS X computers have built in firewalls but you have to turn them on if you want them to work. In Windows, go to Start, Control Panel, Windows Firewall, click On and then click OK. In a Mac, click the apple icon, choose System Preferences, Security and choose the Firewall tab. Click On.

2. Use an antivirus program but don’t depend on it. Antivirus programs can stop some threats but far from all threats. You still have to be careful! Most ISP’s offer free antivirus for PC’s. ClamAV from Sourcefire has a free version and so does Avast. Get ClamAV from and Avast from

3. Use a backup antivirus program. If your computer slows down or you see popups, or you just want to make sure you’re ok, use Malwarebytes to scan your computer. It does not interfere with most other antivirus programs and the free version does not do real time scans. Just do a manual scan every week or so to double check your system. Get Malwarebytes from

4. Speaking of backup, backup your important files. You can buy a large usb drive and copy files or if you have a good internet connection you can use a service such as Dropbox, Mozy or Carbonite to backup your files offsite.

5. Did you know that a lot of computers are infected by bogus search results? It doesn’t matter whether you use Google, Bing, or Yahoo, criminals use a technique called Search Engine Optimization or SEO to get you to click on their infected sites. Then they load piles of crap on your computer in the background.

Use Web of Trust at to protect yourself from bad searches. Web of Trust is a crowd sourced rating system that will mark safe search results with a green circle and bad results with a red circle. It will also warn you if you click on a bad site. Sites that are not rated yet are gray. Avoid them too unless you’re really sure they’re ok. If they are ok, you can rate them! That’s how crowd sourcing works.

6. Protect your DNS. DNS is the system that translates internet addresses such as to easily remembered names such as You probably use your internet provider’s DNS. There are very few checks on DNS and you can easily go to a malicious site with one typo. You can switch your DNS settings to use a system that will protect you from typo squatting and known malicious sites for free. For a small fee, you can get statistics on your home network’s usage and block categories of sites such as porn, hacking, or violence. Go to for instructions on using their DNS.

7. Computer running slow? Don’t buy anything from late night TV to clean it up, use Ccleaner at Basic home use is free.

8. Finally, all of the previous suggestions will help you work safer and faster but there is a big threat to homes and small businesses from password stealing programs that target your banking information. The Zeus and Spyeye botnets have driven many people into bankruptcy. There is a free tool that targets these threats. It is financed by banks and you should check if your bank offers Rapport from Trusteer. Put it on every computer that could possibly access a bank account. If your bank doesn’t offer it, you can use it anyway and download it from Click on the home user tab and follow the instructions. When you install it, there will be an arrow next to your browser address bar. When you’re on your bank site, Ebay, or Paypal, click that arrow. Choose Protect this Site and the passwords will never be sent to that site unencrypted.

9. Do not use the same password on all your accounts. Even if you have a very long password, it can be stolen if you put it in on a site with security problems. Use a different password for each site. Save your passwords in an encrypted program such as Keepass so you don’t have to remember them. Keepass is available for smartphones too. Go to to get it. You can put your password database in Dropbox and sync it to all your devices.

10. Don’t use real answers to security questions. I can find your mother’s maiden name easily on I know what school you went to thanks to and you told everyone that cute story about how you met your spouse on Facebook. By the way, I know your dog’s name too. Use someone else’s dog, put in Cupcakes as your favorite movie, and put in Obama as your mother’s maiden name. It’s even better if they make no sense whatsoever. My mother’s maiden name is Cupcake, my dog is oaktree and my favorite animal is Pie. Not really but I do not use the real info. Save your answers in Keepass or another password safe.

These steps will not give you 100% protection but it will make it very hard for criminals to exploit you. They will probably look for easier targets.


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