Identity Theft: Ten Ways to Secure Your Computer

Part of the Identity Theft For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Being secure online is critical to protecting your identity. Mining the personal information that's on your computer is an identity thief's dream — not to mention all the personal information about you that's on the Internet. Make it harder for identity thieves to get this information by following these tips to secure your computer:

  • Use a firewall: A firewall blocks unauthorized access to your computer while allowing you access to the Internet. Windows comes with a built-in firewall.

    Make sure the built-in firewall is turned on in Windows 7 by clicking the Start button and then choosing Control Panel→System and Security→Action Center. On Windows Vista, click the Start button and then choose Control Panel→Windows Security Center.

  • Use an antivirus program: Antivirus programs help you prevent, detect, and remove viruses, Trojan horses, and other malware, such as adware and spyware. Several are available for free and purchase.

  • Use spyware blocking software: Spyware is a program that secretly collects information about you. Generally, spyware isn't dangerous, although some spyware contains viruses and other malware. Your antivirus program identifies spyware that's on your computer, tells you the threat level that the spyware poses, and gives you the chance to delete the spyware.

  • Install updates to your Windows operating system (OS): These updates are sometimes referred to as hot fixes or patches. These updates come from Microsoft and are important to fix any security holes that may be present in the Windows OS. Using Automatic Updates ensures that your system is up to date and all the latest patches are installed, and you don't have to think about it after you turn on Automatic Updates.

  • Password-protect guest accounts: Do not leave the guest password account without a name and password. This could allow someone to set up their own guest user name and password.

  • Use strong passwords: Creating strong passwords helps prevent thieves from guessing your passwords. Use at least six characters and include upper- and lowercase letter, numbers, and non-alphabetic characters (!, #, %, &, $). Change your passwords at least every 90 days.

  • Use encryption: Encryption scrambles the text so that it can't be read without decrypting it, and you need a key (or password) to do that. Several encryption programs are available for purchase. The cost of the program is likely worth the extra level of protection that encryption provides.

  • Increase browser security settings: In Internet Explorer, choose Tools→Internet Options; in the dialog box that appears, choose the Security tab. Here you can choose a security level (Medium, Medium-High, High, or Custom).

    In Firefox, choose Tools→Options. Here you find various tabs (Content, Privacy, and Security) where you can adjust security settings.

  • Protect your shared files:

    1. Choose Start→Run, and then type regedit and click OK.

    2. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Services\lanmanserver\parameters.

    3. Type the value word autosharewks and enter a value of 0.

    4. Restart your computer.

  • Do not open or reply to unknown e-mails: E-mail attachments are used to carry viruses and Trojan horses, so don't open e-mail attachments from unknown senders. Messages to be especially wary of are ones that go to your junk mail account. These messages can often come from unfriendly sources — the type that would send you a virus in an e-mail.

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