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 The openness of the Internet has dramatically transformed global communications, making it possible for people around the world to easily exchange information. But the very same openness also creates an enormous problem. Anyone can access the network, yet not everyone has good intentions. Some engage in malicious mischief by unleashing destructive software programs, while others view hacking computer networks as sport. Then there are people with criminal goals in mind.
To avoid becoming a victim of misguided pranksters or cybercrime, take the time to examine the security of your personal data. Here are our recommendations, along with links to more detailed information

Block Hackers and Viruses

Connecting your PC to the Internet without using a firewall and antivirus software is like leaving your front door unlocked when you go on vacation--if you're lucky you'll come home to find that all is well, but it's still risky.

Install a firewall on every computer: Even if you have a hardware firewall between your PC or network and the Internet, you should still install a software firewall. Although a hardware firewall can be set to block or allow all packets passing in and out through port 500, for example, it doesn't know which application initiated the communication on your system. A software firewall routinely queries you to confirm whether it should let an application communicate over a given port , so you can tell it that MyCoolInstantMessenger.exe is allowed to use the port but NastyTrojanHorse.exe isn't.

Use a bidirectional firewall: The firewall in Windows XP is better than nothing, but not much better. Free firewalls such as Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm and Sygate's Personal Firewall monitor and control both inbound and outbound network traffic, allowing them to block connections initiated on your PC by the aforementioned NastyTrojanHorse.exe or any real-life backdoor program.

Don't skip the antivirus: If you're not using antivirus software right now, stop what you're doing, go get some, and then continue reading after you've installed it. If you use Windows, not using antivirus software is simply irresponsible because of the high volume of viruses that target any version of this OS. Even if you think you know how to avoid viruses, you may eventually get nailed by one that employs a new and unexpected technique. If you get infected, chances are you'll infect the family members, friends, colleagues, and others who are in your address book, too.

Protect your passwords: Many online services, such as banking, brokerage and e-mail require the use of passwords. A secure password is the first line of defense against cybersnoops. Use a different password for each account, don't divulge them to anyone and change them periodically.

Update security patches for your operating system and web browser: You've probably read about security "holes" that turn up periodically. Once they're discovered, you can download fixes. For Windows users, an easy way to update your system is by clicking on the Windows Update option under the Start menu or by pointing your web browser to this link: http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/

Back up your data: Make copies of your files in case they become corrupted, your system fails or your computer is damaged or stolen. Get in the habit of doing this regularly, at least once a week.

Log offline when you're done for the day: You are most vulnerable when connected to the Net. If there isn't a good reason to remain online, disconnect from the network.

Follow these tips and you will enhance your personal security and the health of your PC.