Security Corner

Feb 16 2010   3:56AM GMT

Top Five Security Tips for Everyone

Ken Harthun Ken Harthun Profile: Ken Harthun

No matter what operating system you use for computing, security is a consideration. We connect to networks every day that we have little or no control over. Everyone uses email and there is no OS that can secure against or prevent a phishing attack. It comes down to a matter of best practices and education of the person at the keyboard.

Here are my top five security tips that anyone can employ and everyone should employ.

1. Use strong passwords. It goes without saying that strong passwords are an absolute necessity to thwart brute force attacks, but even more important than using strong passwords is using different strong passwords for different puposes. Far too many people use the same password on multiple sites. This is bad; even worse is using the same password for your financial accounts as you use on social networks. On a recent service call, I was asked to recover an Excel spreadsheet my client used to store login information. While verifying I had the right file, I noticed that the same password was used on eight sites, six of which were financial sites; the other two were Facebook and Twitter. Yikes! I gently suggested that this is not a good idea.

2. Use encryption. On the most basic level, such as to secure text files containing your banking information, passwords, etc., you can employ simple, readily available tools to encrypt single files or directories you want to protect. One such tool that I have good success using on idividual files is AxCrypt. Another good tool is LockNote, a portable memo pad that enables you to store text information using 256-bit AES encryption. For more extensive encryption needs you’ll want to use something like TrueCrypt. Naturally, sensitive communications should be encrypted as well. For that you can use GnuPG.

3. Keep your software updated. While automatic updates for operating system security holes occur regularly, users often neglect to patch their applications. Big mistake. It’s just as important to keep third party software patched. Secunia’s free Personal Software Inspector will test every application on your system and give you a detailed report, included recommended actions to take.

4. Don’t trust open wireless networks. This is worthy of an entire article. Just remember that “open” means just that. Don’t login to any site that doesn’t have a persistent SSL/TLS connection, especially financial sites.  Email isn’t safe either. For example, Yahoo! mail employs an initial secure connection for login and then immediately switches to an insecure connection. Same with Hotmail. Gmail does it right and maintains the secure connection throughout the session. If you don’t want your private email messages to be sniffed out of the air, don’t use insecure webmail.

5. Protect the perimeter. At bare minimum, you must install a NAT router between your high-speed Internet connection and you home network. Even better would be one with an integrated SPI firewall and lock it down tight.

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