We live in a world where a criminal can literally assume your identity and wipe you out financially. So, it’s important to put up as many obstacles as possible in order to protect yourself.
Here are my top recommendations to keep your stuff… well, yours.
(Sorry, these are only for PC users. If you’ve got recommendations for Mac or Linux equivalents please post them.)
- Buy and use Roboform to securely manage all of your passwords, PINs and other sensitive data. This software will remember, encrypt, and automate all of your logins across the Web as well as hold “safenotes” where you can keep sensitive information such as ATM PINs, social security numbers, and the like.
There are even versions that will sync to your Palm, SmartPhone or a USB key. All you need to remember is the one master password – which incidentally needs to be one you don’t use anywhere else! I consider this the single best piece of software I’ve ever purchased, and I get paid NOTHING to say that.
- Keep the spyware at bay. You absolutely must install Spybot – Search and Destroy, Spyware Blaster and Microsoft Windows Defender. These programs will prevent, detect and (in most cases) remove any spyware you happen upon. And by the way, if they say it’s spyware, DON’T USE IT NO MATTER HOW COOL IT SOUNDS!
- Deny the Hackers and Snoopers. You’ve got to have a software firewall on every computer you have, this is in addition to the firewall protection that most DSL or Cable routers include. Why? Well, the concept here is “defense in depth”.
You need multiple layers of protection in case one fails. For example, a hacker might not be able to get through your DSL router’s firewall, but if they manage to e-mail you a trojan they can make your computer come to them instead.
The firewall will tell you every time your computer wants to access the internet so that you can approve certain programs which need access, and deny those that are suspicious. I currently recommend ZoneAlarm’s free firewall.
- Don’t catch a bug. Your computer probably came with Norton or McAfee anti-virus software, which quickly expired and then asked you to pay to register it. Why? There are perfectly good free alternatives which use fewer system resources, keeping your machine running faster.
My tool of choice is the free Avast home edition anti-virus program. Don’t be afraid to uninstall the anti-virus software that came with your machine and replace it with Avast.
I consider the previous items to be the bare minimum requirements to ensure a reasonable balance between safety and useability.
If you have sensitive documents which you’d feel safer about having encrypted, or if you need to be able to send secure e-mail through the internet, I’d also recommend PGP Desktop which will install a military grade encryption capability on your system. You can’t do any better for $99.
Oh, and one last thing. For God’s sake – get a shredder for your house! NEVER throw away anything with identifying information on it without shredding it first.