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Cyber criminals make it their business to exploit vulnerabilities in software and systems. These attacks range from infecting your computer with malicious code to taking control of your desktop or laptop.

Here are some tips for protecting your hardware, software and data.

  1. Lock your door. Manage an Internet firewall. With high-speed Internet access, a hacker can connect to your computer in the blink of an eye. That's why it's a good idea to block unwanted connections. Many computers come pre-installed with some type of firewall that prevents unauthorized access from Internet users, and you can buy these programs separately as well. By the way, a firewall does its best work when you adjust its settings, depending on your individual needs.
  2. Use virus checkers and anti-spyware. Never assume an email attachment is safe to open, just because you know or think you know the sender. Mistakes happen -- often without the sender's knowledge -- which is why you should defend yourself against worms, Trojan Horses and viruses by installing virus and anti-spy software. Let these programs run in the background to catch issues in real time and before any damage is done. Here's what to do if you download a worm:
    • Run a virus scan.
    • Follow the instructions for containing and/or removing the offending program.
    • Run a Spyware removal program from a reputable site like
    • Keep your virus checker up-to-date to prevent future issue.
  3. Investigate before downloading. Installing free software, like peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing programs, can put your computer and data at risk. Even well-known freebies can be hacked by third-parties and/or bundled with unpleasant surprises. A quick Web search should help you identify the software, the originator's website and any known issues. Do your research beforehand then share any warnings with family members and coworkers.
  4. Update your application and system software. Every day, thousands of software developers update their products, adding features or patching bugs and security issues. It's your responsibility to update your computer with the latest software versions. If you can, set the software to check, download and install updates automatically. It's the only way to minimize the chance that the latest issue won't affect you.
  5. Back up your data. Back ups are your best insurance against losing precious files before any damage occurs. Make it a regular habit. How often should you back up your files? Ask yourself, "How much data can I afford to lose?" then back up critical files daily, weekly or monthly. Keep your backups on external media that's stored away from your computer, in a safe and temperature-controlled place.
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