Most people are aware that there are continuous security issues with Microsoft’s Windows operating system and other programs. However, what most people do not realize is how easy it is to significantly improve your computer’s security and reduce the likelihood of becoming a victim to ever increasingly sophisticated threats that lurk on the internet. These steps should take less than a couple of hours to complete and should not clean out your wallet.

1) Windows Update – the first crucial step you need to take to make sure that all your Microsoft applications have all the latest product updates installed. These updates or “patches” address security vulnerabilities and other issues. Microsoft usually issues these updates on a monthly cycle. Visit the Microsoft website or switch on automatic updates from the Windows Control panel. Even if your “new” computer is second hand this is still a critical first step. If you buy a used computer with Windows XP make sure Service Pack 2 or SP2 is installed.

2) Strong Passwords – people often overlook this but having well thought through passwords is an important element of your computer security. A strong password should include at least 8 characters with a mixture of text, symbols and numbers. As a minimum you need to make sure the services most at risk have a strong log-in password. These services include your bank, credit card, other financial services like PayPal, your email address and any other services like Ebay which hackers can use to generate profit.

3) Anti Virus Protection – while it is fair to say the threat of the computer virus has receded during the last couple of years they can still inflict serious damage on your computer. Part of the reason why the threat has reduced is because PC manufactures are now more frequently bundling anti virus packages with their new computers. For example last year my new Dell shipped with a 90-day trial of McAfee’s Internet Security Suite. The best bet here is to purchase a security package which includes firewall and anti virus software as a minimum. Top brands include McAfee and Symantec Norton products. However, Microsoft has recently entered the market with their “OneCare” offering which is very aggressively priced.
4) Firewall – if you are using a broadband connection then a firewall is definite requirement to manage the traffic flowing between your computer and the internet. A firewall monitors the inbound internet traffic passing through the ports of your computer. Better products also monitor outbound traffic from your computer to the internet. As per above the best bet here is buy a firewall application as part of a security package which most vendors offer as standard. If a hardware firewall is included as part of your router package then you do not need anything else. A company called Zone Labs offer a great free firewall product called Zone Alarm which should be used as a minimum. Windows XP does now ship with a free firewall but the product does not monitor outbound communication and therefore I believe does not offer adequate protection.

5) Anti Spyware Tool – this software is the last piece in your basic internet security set up. This tool helps combat spyware and adware. There is a good mixture of free and paid versions on offer. Good free software include Microsoft’s Windows Defender, Spybot S&D or Ewido Anti-Malware. Ewido Anti-Malware is frequently recommended in computer help forums. Be careful if you decide to purchase a solution. There are a number of rogue vendors out there which aggressively push products which offer you little value. Stick to trusted names like Webroot’s Spy Sweeper or PC Tool’s Spyware Doctor. These products always come out well on independent tests.