Securing a computer is like securing anything else in life and requires you to do three things consistently:

  • Maintain
  • Protect
  • Simplify

Maintaining it means that you’re running the latest versions of the software programs you use.  Nothing in life is perfect and neither is the software.  Weaknesses in software are being discovered all the time and some of these vulnerabilities can be exploited by others to take control of your computer or deny you access to it.  Fixes to software are called “patches” and/or “service packs” and the most important of these are related to security (i.e., security patches, security service packs).  Keeping your computer fully patched/service packed can be difficult because you don’t know what you don’t know but it is the first thing you need to do.  A lot of bad things can be done to a vulnerable computer so deny them the opportunity and close these weaknesses.

The easiest thing for you to do if you run a Microsoft operating system (Vista, XP, etc.) is to turn on Windows Update but that just covers the operating system and not all the other programs you run.  To keep those other programs maintained, I recommend using Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI).  It’s free and provides you with fairly straight-forward instructions on patching your other programs.

Protecting your computer is also critical. Even if your computer is fully maintained, there is still plenty of bad stuff in cyberspace that can damage or take over your computer (e.g., viruses, Trojans, spyware, etc.).  But understanding how to best protect your computer starts with understanding the three things that a computer does with information: stores it, manipulates it, and transmits it.  All three of these areas need to be protected.

The hard part about this responsibility is that there are many areas to protect and many products available to do so.  Free solutions do exist but there’s a trade-off with the free stuff: you end up having to know more technically than if you purchase a product suite that covers it all.  But let me cut to the quick and just list what you need to have at a minimum:

Simplifying your computer just means removing anything on your computer that you don’t need or use.  It’s as simple as uninstalling old software and turning off services you don’t use but doing this is often neglected.  But this could also include properly configuring your software so that capabilities and access that you don’t want, need, or use aren’t lurking out there waiting for someone or something to take advantage of their presence.  The bottom-line here is that you need to know what’s installed on your computer, what it does, and how you want it to be used.