March 07, 2011, 9:21 PM — Very few people (certainly not the smart, savvy, people who read PCWorld articles) run their computers without up-to-date firewall and antivirus software. Most users know better than to click a message from "Bank of Amerika" that tells them "Your account is much suspect of risk, please input number for verify." Regardless, there's always a new security hole, exploit, or social-engineering trick that can catch even the intelligent and cautious in a moment of weakness. Another threat is the possibility that someone might gain physical access to your computer--whether it's a laptop thief, a sneaky coworker with dubious intent, or an aggressive lawyer for the RIAA. This feature discusses several ways to keep your digital valuables safe, even if someone is prowling around your house.
(For a convenient list of links to all of the programs described in this article, see our "10 Utilities to Secure Your Data" collection.)
Don't Give Crooks a Free Pass(word)
I wish to publicly confess a venial but pretty dumb sin: I often reuse usernames and passwords. All a malicious hacker has to do is get that combination from an insecure site--say, Gawker Media--and then brute-force it against other sites. (In my defense, my most important accounts--my e-mail, my banking, my Web administration--use unique names and passwords.)
In an era when you have to register a user ID and password to just to tell some random person on the Internet that they're wrong, it's virtually impossible to create passwords that meet the target of being "easy to remember, hard to guess."
Most modern Web browsers have a basic password-save feature, but looking outside the browser to specialized programs is usually a better bet. KeePass, a free and open-source program, offers a lot of tools and options for far more than just Web passwords. It has a nice system of categories (which you can extend with subcategories) for organizing passwords; it also supports third-party plug-ins and even scripts. Thanks to one free/donationware plug-in, Clockwork's Firefox to KeePass Converter, I was able to import all my stored Firefox passwords, which is crucial for getting me to actually use a program like this.