PC security: Your essential software toolbox

Don't fall victim! With these tools, services and tips, you can protect yourself against malware, phishing and theft.

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Enable search engine filtering: Since children can encounter all sorts of inappropriate content in searches, consider enabling search filtering for the popular websites. You can do so in the preferences screens for Google and Yahoo. For YouTube, click the Safety Mode link at the bottom of any page.

Use SocialShield for social network monitoring: Aviras free SocialShield service helps you keep an eye on your childrens Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and MySpace accounts. It analyzes their public and private posts, photos, friends, and so on to alert you to anything that might compromise your childrens online safety.

Device and data theft

Not all security risks come by way of the Internet: You never know when a thief might try to steal your equipment. Although this is obviously more of a concern for laptops and mobile devices, theft is one of the simplest, yet most damaging, threats.

Even if you have set a Windows password, thieves might still be able to access your personal files and passwords, as well as other bits of sensitive data. They could remove your Windows password (which isnt difficult) and log in to your Windows account, boot your computer into Linux (which bypasses Windows completely), or remove the hard drive and connect it to another computer.

Encrypting your drive will prevent those types of attacks. A thief could still delete your data from an encrypted drive, but the crook wouldnt be able to access it. If youre using an Ultimate or Enterprise edition of Windows Vista or later, you can use Windows BitLocker to encrypt your drive. If youre using another version or edition of Windows, check out the open-source DiskCryptor utility.

An alternative to encrypting your entire hard drive is to encrypt only your most sensitive files, such as financial reports and confidential work documents. You wont be able to protect some data (such as saved browser passwords) under this scheme, but taking this approach is better than doing nothing. If youre running a Professional, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise edition of Windows, you can use the built-in Encrypting File System feature, which you can turn on through the properties of a file or folder. If youre on a Home edition of Windows, or if your computers do not all run the premium editions, you might turn to TrueCrypt to encrypt the files or folders you want to protect.

Wireless and mobile security

Outside of your PC, you can take other steps to keep your data safe.

Turn on Wi-Fi encryption: Most wireless routers dont turn security on by default. Enable encryption to prevent snoops from entering your network and perhaps capturing your traffic and passwords. For a home or small office, use at least WPA2-Personal (PSK) security, in which you create a password on the router and then enter it into computers and devices when connecting. For a larger business, choose WPA2-Enterprise security, which uses an authentication server or hosted service and requires users to have unique usernames and passwords.

Use a strong Wi-Fi security password: Even if you decide to set up WPA2-Personal (PSK) security on your wireless router, you're still at risk if you make a weak password that can be cracked. To ensure that malicious parties cant break into your Wi-Fi, use a complex password. You can use up to 63 characters, including lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers, and symbols. Dont use any recognizable words or phrases; gibberish like a8F#wM1(C9*!q$JyP@i^ is ideal. And so you dont forget it, you might write it on a sticky note and attach it to the bottom of your router, or save it on your desktop PC in a Word or plain-text file.

Password-protect your smartphone and tablet: Dont forget about the security of your mobile devices. Losing your smartphone or tablet can cost you money, time, and privacy. Your first line of defense should be to set a lock-screen PIN or password on your phone or tablet so that other people cant use it if you lose it. And if your smartphone or tablet supports encryption, you should turn the feature on so that a thief cant retrieve your personal data from the device without considerable effort.

Install security apps on your phone and tablet: No-cost, easy-to-use security utilities such as Avast Free Mobile Security, AVG Mobi­lation Anti-Virus Free, or Bitdefender Mobile Security can help you locate and secure your smartphone or tablet if it is lost or stolen. Most of these security apps let you log on to a website where you can see the location of your lost device on a map, make it scream or sound an alarm (useful if you lose it in between couch cushions), lock it in case you dont have a PIN or password currently set, and even wipe the data if you think you wont be getting it back. These apps also have antivirus features to help block mobile malware, an emerging threat.

This story, "PC security: Your essential software toolbox" was originally published by PCWorld.

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