How to Secure Your PC to Trade Online - dummies

How to Secure Your PC to Trade Online

By Matt Krantz

If you’re going to use your computer to process your investing and banking tasks, you’d better lock it down. Cyber-criminals have gotten sophisticated and have targeted online investors in hopes of gaining control of a person’s account and stealing money.

Please, don’t let such concerns scare you off from investing online. After all, cars get broken into and you still drive. It’s just that you must take certain precautions to make it harder for the bad guys to get into your PC, such as

  • Installing antivirus software: If a sinister code designed to wreak havoc on your computer gets in your machine, it can be a real hassle. Viruses can corrupt system files and make your computer unreliable or unusable. Antivirus software is the easy solution. It runs in the background, looks at any program that tries to run on your computer, and stops the program if it tries to do something improper.

    You can go to all sorts of great lengths to lock down your aging computer, but really, the best defense is upgraded equipment running a modern operating system. Windows 10 comes with built-in security that’s good enough for you — unless you’re the Pentagon. Windows Defender, which is built into Windows 10 and also Windows 8, runs efficiently and is pretty much all you need.

    But for those of you who are truly paranoid, many antivirus software programs are available, including

    • Free versions: If you’re still running Windows 7, just upgrade to Windows 10. If you just can’t bear to part with Windows 7, one option is to download and install a free antivirus software program. Microsoft offers its own free antivirus software, called Microsoft Security Essentials, which has gotten good reviews for being effective without slowing your computer down. Other free options include AVG Free and Avast Free.

    • Commercial: Antivirus programs from McAfee, Symantec, Kaspersky, and TrendMicro are popular. But these will cost you — and are most likely overkill for most users.

  • Installing antispyware software: Spyware is software that attaches itself to your computer without your permission and runs behind the scenes. It’s especially sinister because it might forward personal information to a third party, usually for marketing purposes. Microsoft Security Essentials can automatically scan the computer and make sure that no spyware has hitched a ride on your computer. You can also find dedicated software programs designed to sniff out spyware. Malwarebytes probably has the greatest name — and works well.

  • Using firewalls: A firewall is an electronic barrier that (selectively) separates you from the Internet at large. A proper firewall is like a moat around a castle — only traffic that you lower the drawbridge for can get in. You can use the following types of firewalls:

    • Built-in: If you have Microsoft’s Windows 7, Vista, Windows 8, or Windows 10, you have a firewall turned on by default.

    • Router: The other way to protect your computer with a firewall is to install a router. A router is a small box that sits between your computer and the wall jack that connects you to the Internet. Many routers work like a software firewall and can even make your computer invisible to other computers. Depending on your router, you might need to enable the firewall. Check the router’s instructions to find out how.

    • Third-party software: A number of companies make firewall software, some of which is free. ZoneAlarm Internet Security is one option, which offers a free version and a more advanced version called ZoneAlarm Extreme that costs $45. Comodo Free Firewall is another option and it is — you guessed it — free.

  • Installing all-in-one security: If you’re running Windows 10, 8, 7, or Vista with an antivirus program, you’re in pretty good shape against the bad guys. Just make sure that that your copy of Windows is up to date by selecting the Start button, typing Windows Update in the search box in the window that appears, and following the on-screen prompts (it’s Check for updates in Windows 10). Windows 10 is designed to update itself anyway — eliminating this step. But if you’d prefer, some software programs provide three different levels of security (antivirus/antispyware/firewall). Symantec has Norton 360, and McAfee offers McAfee Total Protection, but neither is free and for most common home users they don’t offer enough extra protection to warrant their costs.