Why isn't "more" better?

Maybe there is an extra software program included with a program you bought. Or perhaps you found a free download online. You may be tempted to install the programs just because you can, or because you think you might use them later. However, even if the source and the software are legitimate, there may be hidden risks. And if other people use your computer, there are additional risks.

These risks become especially important if you use your computer to manage your personal finances (banking, taxes, online bill payment, etc.), store sensitive personal data, or perform work-related activities away from the office. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

  • Use and maintain anti-virus software and a firewall – Protect yourself against viruses and Trojan horses that may steal or modify the data on your own computer. Use anti-virus software and a firewall. (See Understanding Anti-Virus Software and Understanding Firewalls for more information.) Make sure to keep your virus definitions up to date.
  • Regularly scan your computer for spyware – Spyware or adware hidden in software programs may affect the performance of your computer and give attackers access to your data. Use a legitimate anti-spyware program to scan your computer and remove any of these files. (See Recognizing and Avoiding Spyware for more information.) Many anti-virus products have incorporated spyware detection.
  • Keep software up to date – Install software patches so that attackers cannot take advantage of known problems or vulnerabilities. (See Understanding Patches for more information.) Many operating systems offer automatic updates. If this option is available, you should turn it on.
  • Establish guidelines for computer use – If there are multiple people using your computer, especially children, make sure they understand how to use the computer and internet safely. Setting boundaries and guidelines will help to protect your data. (See Keeping Children Safe Online for more information.)
  • Follow corporate policies for handling and storing work-related information – If you use your computer for work-related purposes, make sure to follow any corporate policies for handling and storing the information. These policies were likely established to protect proprietary information and customer data, as well as to protect you and the company from liability. Even if it is not explicitly stated in your corporate policy, you should avoid allowing other people, including family members, to use a computer that contains corporate data.
  • Dispose of sensitive information properly – Simply deleting a file does not completely erase it. To ensure that an attacker cannot access these files, make sure that you adequately erase sensitive files. (See Effectively Erasing Files for more information.)
  • Follow good security habits – Review other security tips for ways to protect yourself and your data.