How to Protect Data on Your Computer

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Below is a list of things to consider and think about in order to protect the data on your computer.

1. First ask yourself what it is you want to protect. Generally speaking, and for most people, it will be their data on the hard drive (or the virtual file cabinet of stored information). Some people have years of family and vacation photographs, tax records, banking information, or important papers, etc.

The second question is what level of safety should you implement (which goes back to what it is you want to protect and HOW important it is). There are a number of data loss possibilities, which include: hard drive failure, viruses, hackers, burglary, fires, kids erasing information, electrical surges, etc.

Based on these two important questions, we’ll cover some options to consider.

2. Preserve and Protect: There’s a variety of avenues to take depending on what it is you want to protect. For digital photos, you can simply write or burn them to a CD/DVD and store them elsewhere. This is cheap and easy, but it takes effort and time on your part (and you’ll have to do this periodically as you acquire new photos). This does not preserve your photos in the event of a fire, unless you store the CD’s/DVD’s off site. A similar approach can be taken for important records, papers, or other digital files that you want preserved.

There are also some online login na citiprepaid services allowing you to upload your data and store it on their secure servers (for a fee). While this is relatively easy, you are putting your data on a remote computer (which is hopefully secure).

Additionally, you could purchase an additional hard drive (external ones simply hook right up or internal ones require installation). You can make daily or weekly backups of your data (copy everything on your main hard drive over to your backup) which will cover you in the event of a hard drive failure. While hard drives failures are not extremely common, they do happen around 5% of the time (laptops, which are subject to more movement and being tossed around can occur more frequently based upon how one cares for the device). Businesses generally use a featured called RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks), which basically stores the same data over several hard drives, so that if one fails, the computer can immediately begin using the other one. It all comes down to: how important is your data, and how quickly do you need to access it?

Protect against electrical harm: One other area often overlooked is the possibility of an electrical surge damaging your computer. While this is rare, it can happen. Surge protectors are a good start, although keep in mind that if lightning were to strike near your PC it can do some pretty random things (I’ve seen lightning strike near one home and it fried the electronics of a dishwasher!).

3. Prevent: The next level of security is preventing unauthorized access to your data and/or protecting it from harm. These can be grouped by DIRECT and NETWORK threats.

4. DIRECT: If you are NOT connected to a network of any type (and are NOT connected to the Internet), then you ONLY have to worry about direct threats, which would be someone gaining access to your PC by walking up to it. It could even be a child hitting delete one too many times on your keyboard!
The easiest way to prevent direct threats to your PC is to use a password to login. There’s also additional measures available to ensure that only you can login to your computer (especially if you’re worried about someone knowing or guessing your password when you’re away). If want to consider protecting your PC from someone walking away with it, then you’ll need to consider home security and/or locking it in place.

This also brings up the question of where your data is located? Is it on a USB flash drive? Protecting this type of data takes on new ideas. Keep it safe and with you at all times. What happens when you leave it sitting on a desk or it drops out of a pocket? Finger print scanner (or bio-access) USB thumb drives exist that allow only you to access the data on the device. This adds a level a security and ensures that no one else will be looking at important data you might have stored on the device.

5. NETWORK – local: If you run a home network, then someone else has the potential to gain access to your computer from that network. A locally wired network is MUCH more difficult to hack into (versus a wireless) since someone would have to physically attach a device to your network (which leads back to home security). Plus, if you have the team from Mission Impossible trying to tap into your home network, you likely have larger problems to worry about. If your network incorporates wireless, then anyone could potentially compromise your wireless network within a certain range. Many people don’t understand the importance of securing their wireless local network. One should at a minimum: change the default names and passwords used to login to your wireless router, enable encryption (the higher the standard the better), and limit the number of users to the number of people you plan on using the network.

6. NETWORK – Internet: While the Internet is loaded with tons of useful information, it does lend itself to breeding a hive of potential problems. Hackers are generally considered someone on another PC attempting to gain access to your computer’s data. They may or may not cause harm. Either way, you wouldn’t want someone walking into your office and going through your file cabinet.

A “firewall” should be your first addition to Internet security. Firewalls come in hardware and software flavors. If you have some form of high speed Internet, then you generally have your Internet line (cable, phone, etc.) connected to a high speed modem. Your computer connects to the modem and then speaks to the Internet. A hardware firewall goes between your computer and your modem, and is generally sold as an all-in-one wireless router / firewall / hub device. Linksys is among the top name brands. This firewall acts as a buffer between you and the Internet (where the hackers live).

However, it could be possible for a hacker to gain access to your computer through the hardware firewall, which is why an additional software firewall installed on your PC gives added protection. Zone Labs offers a free version, although most Windows Operating Systems now come with a software based firewall that’s active by default.

(a) NETWORK — software: Some hackers look for ways to gain access to your PC through software vulnerabilities. This means they might find a “loop hole” in Internet Explorer which allows them access to your hard drive. The only response to this would be to check for updates that help fix these problems when identified. Windows Operating Systems generally have a feature to auto-check for updates.

7. Be Smart: You can also do things that just make sense. By turning your computer off when you don’t need it you not only save energy, but a hacker can’t access something that isn’t there (computers turned off don’t appear on a network).

In addition to turning it off, you can take an extra step during thunderstorms, and UNPLUG your PC. Having a surge protector CAN protect your electronics, but if there’s no wire for a surge to travel through, then your PC is 100% safe (pending a lightning strike doesn’t actually hit your computer). It is quite possible for a large surge of electricity to travel right through a surge protector and destroy your PC. Plus, it only takes a few seconds of your time to unplug a PC.

Also, don’t allow anyone else using your computer to download software without first asking. Ask them what it is their downloading and why they need it. Many kids love to download instant messaging clients and file sharing programs to listen to music. Many of these programs have additional software included that’s installed with the main program. Some are simply programs running in the background that open your computer up as a file sharing server while others cause additional memory usage and overall degrade the performance of your PC.

8. Be Healthy: Viruses (also known as malicious ware, spyware, macros). These are generally written to create havoc (either delete or corrupt data, record passwords, etc.), and are somehow placed on your PC (via a USB drive, e-mail, or visiting a particular Internet site) and allowed to run at a later time. Some type of anti-virus software is highly recommended. AVG has for years offered a fairly reliable basic, free version. Since new viruses are always being written, you’ll need to make sure the software is regularly updated.

9. If you don’t have anything on your computer that you care to protect, then in reality, you don’t need to do much of anything. If you do get a virus, or a hacker attacks it, then there isn’t any information available to record, see, etc. You might need to reinstall your operating system and set up your PC again, and thus you’ll be out the time it takes you to do this (or paying someone else to do this for you). However, keep in mind that even if you purchase items over the Internet, you credit card information is being passed from your computer. Spyware could capture this data and pass it back to someone else. Thus, if you make any online purchases, I’d recommend considering the above steps.

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