Tis the season to safeguard your computer

Special thanks to Matt Lidestri, manager of Security and Internet Products for COCC, a Connecticut-based firm specializing in outsourced information technology and support, for providing this valuable information for our customers.

Not everyone will be looking for sweaters and smartphones this holiday season. In fact, once the tinsel gets tossed and the decorations are packed away, data security will resume its title role, center stage.

The following is a list of gifts that keep on giving and cost little or nothing. Happy holidays!

Back to the Internet

Have you ever noticed when you are shopping online that advertisements seem to focus on just the items you want? That’s the latest technique for tying your online behavior to online advertising – it allows advertisers to place their messages on pages you view just when you’re about to buy a rival’s product.

The latest version of the Firefox browser enables users to stop the madness by opting out of online behavior tracking. Other Firefox features include the ability to protect your browsing history, remove any trace of visiting a particular web site, and to know if content on any given page is legitimate. Hackers often inject evil scripts onto innocent-looking web pages – a technique known as cross-site scripting attacks. This feature gives you a chance to walk away.

Blocking Traffic

Last year, we recommended Comodo, a free firewall to protect customers from malware at home. Let me repeat to anyone who doubts whether they need a firewall in their house – you do. The average time to infect an unprotected computer on the Internet remains under five minutes.

This year, we are recommending another free tool to protect yourself and your family from malware and adult content (gambling, pornography, etc.), on the Internet. K9 by Blue Coat uses the same advanced web filtering technology deployed by companies and governments worldwide — all with a user-friendly interface that allows you to control Internet use in your home.

New Windows

In the past, security literature cited a common culprit – Microsoft – for security weaknesses. Not anymore. The new Windows 7 operating system is fast, easy to use, and has some excellent features that help consumers stay safe. Windows 7 is the product of Microsoft’s Security Development Lifecycle (SDL), which has contributed in developing higher quality code. In addition, it ships with better protection via User Account Control (UAC), which was first introduced in Windows Vista. Any time a program wants to make a major change to your computer, the UAC alerts you and asks for permission. This is a significant defense against hackers and malicious software, since they often change settings and install software to do their dirty work.

For those who prefer a different experience with their PC, there is Ubuntu, a very common user-friendly Linux operating system. The price is right – free – and it provides exceptional device support, an intuitive interface, and strong security. Since most viruses target Windows-based systems at this point in time, using Ubuntu can reduce the likelihood of successful malware infections. If you have family or friends who are prone to tripping across malware, I’d highly recommend giving Ubuntu a closer look.

The New You

Even if you install tons of security solutions, you will still need a sure-fire method for reducing your risk of hacker attacks. Here it is: create at least one ‘regular’ user account on your computer, and use that account exclusively for day-to-day use.

Why is a ‘regular’ user account so effective? Malware often needs to make changes to the system in order to be effective – from hooking into the OS (operating system) to enable keylogging to installing services for persistence between reboots. If you sign in as a regular user with no administrative rights, malware cannot be installed automatically or by simply clicking an “ok” button. That’s good news for the good guys.

Reduce the Junk

Finally, I leave you with a highly effective strategy to stem the tide of junk email: Create a separate junk email account and use it to sign up for promotions, Groupons, and charities. Review this account just once a week, and delete most everything in it, confident that real email from friends, family, and companies that you actually do business with won’t be clouded by spam. Or, forward email from your “junk account” to your real webmail account and create rules to direct these messages to a different folder. This provides easy access to these messages without cluttering your inbox.

Please note: Framingham Co-operative Bank provides these links as a service to our web site visitors. We are not responsible for the content, views, or privacy policies of these sites. We take no responsibility for any products or services offered, nor do we endorse or sponsor the information contained.