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The MUO Security Checklist: What You Need To Do Right Now To Be Safe tick mark on a green lockSecurity can be an overwhelming subject – there are so many potential problems we need to think about when securing our computers, our online accounts, and our wireless networks. This list should help simplify things – follow this checklist and you’ll be well on your way to staying safe on a dangerous Internet.

Many security problems are caused by other people, whether it’s a company releasing software with dangerous security holes or a website getting hacked and leaking our passwords. While we can’t stop these problems from occurring, we can reduce the danger.

Use a User Account With Limited Permissions

Using an administrator user account with no protection – as most people did on Windows XP – puts you at risk. To be secure, you should be using a user account with limited permissions. This prevents programs from modifying your system without prompting you. If you’re using Windows 7 (or even Windows Vista), ensure you have User Account Control enabled. UAC allows you to use your computer with an administrator account, but you’ll still be prompted when programs want administrator permissions.

To check your UAC settings, click the Start button, type UAC into the Start menu, press Enter, and ensure the slider is set somewhere above Never Notify.

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If you’re using Windows XP, using a standard user account may be a good idea – but this is more difficult, as most software assumes it has administrator access on Windows XP. If you’re using Windows XP, you should probably upgrade soon anyway – security updates for Windows XP stop in April 2014.

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Use Good Password Practices

Many people use weak, easy-to-guess passwords online. Even if they don’t, they’ll re-use strong passwords on multiple websites. Both are dangerous.

Choose strong passwords that aren’t just dictionary words – select ones that would be difficult for a cracker or computer program to guess. You should also use good security questions – if anyone can get into your account by knowing the high school you went to (a publicly available piece of information), that’s a problem. For help choosing good passwords and security questions, check out:

You should also be using a different password on each website. This is crucial. When a high-profile website becomes compromised – LinkedIn, Yahoo, Last.fm, and eHarmony have all had password leaks in the last year – crackers can look at the leaked list of email address/password combinations and try them on other websites. If you register for a website with your email address and use the same password you use for your email account, people can get into your email account easily. If you reuse the password on other websites, they can access those accounts, too. Using a unique password everywhere helps you limit the damage.

Store Your Passwords In A Password Manager

Remembering strong, unique passwords for every website can be difficult. That’s where a password manager comes in. We’ve talked about password management strategies Use A Password Management Strategy To Simplify Your Life Use A Password Management Strategy To Simplify Your Life Much of the advice around passwords has been near-impossible to follow: use a strong password containing numbers, letters and special characters; change it regularly; come up with a completely unique password for each account etc.... Read More before, and a password manager is one of the best. Some of the top password managers include LastPass, which encrypts your passwords and stores the encrypted file on LastPass’s servers, where you can access it from anywhere, and KeePass, which keeps an encrypted copy of your passwords on your computer – you’re responsible for backing it up, although you can synchronize it with Dropbox or another cloud storage service The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The Cloud Storage Showdown - Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive & More The cloud storage scene has heated up recently, with a long-awaited entry by Google and a revamped SkyDrive from Microsoft. Dropbox has gone unchallenged by the major players for a long time, but that’s changed... Read More .

Set Up 2-Factor Authentication

If someone does get access to your password, two-factor authentication prevents them from accessing your account. With two-factor authentication, you’ll need more than just your password to log into a website – you’ll also need a special, time-sensitive key. These keys are often generated by a mobile app or sent to you via SMS. A variety of services support two-factor authentication, including Google Google Recommends 2-Step Process To Protect Your Account [News] Google Recommends 2-Step Process To Protect Your Account [News] Most savvy Internet users probably have at one at least Google account - mainly because Google, for good or bad, crosses paths with so many other websites that it's hard to avoid not using the... Read More , Facebook How to Use Facebook Login Approvals and Code Generator on Android How to Use Facebook Login Approvals and Code Generator on Android To keep your device secure, we show you how to set up Login Approvals and Code Generator on Facebook for Android. Read More , Dropbox, LastPass LastPass Premium: Treat Yourself To The Best Password Management Ever [Rewards] LastPass Premium: Treat Yourself To The Best Password Management Ever [Rewards] If you've never heard of LastPass, I'm sorry to say that you have been living under a rock. However, you are reading this article, so you've already made a step in the right direction. LastPass... Read More , and Blizzard’s Battle.net 4 Apps Every Diablo 3 Player Should Have On Their Device [iOS] 4 Apps Every Diablo 3 Player Should Have On Their Device [iOS] When anything is popular, there are usually a slew of mobile applications that hit the market in an attempt to cash in on the popularity. Diablo 3 is no exception. However, one glance at the... Read More .

The MUO Security Checklist: What You Need To Do Right Now To Be Safe googleverfication

Install Updates Frequently

You should be frequently installing updates for Windows 3 Reasons Why You Should Be Running The Latest Windows Security Patches & Updates 3 Reasons Why You Should Be Running The Latest Windows Security Patches & Updates The code that makes up the Windows operating system contains security loop holes, errors, incompatibilities, or outdated software elements. In short, Windows isn't perfect, we all know that. Security patches and updates fix the vulnerabilities... Read More  and the other software on your computer, particularly web browsers and plug-ins like Flash and Java Is Java Unsafe & Should You Disable It? Is Java Unsafe & Should You Disable It? Oracle’s Java plug-in has become less and less common on the Web, but it’s become more and more common in the news. Whether Java is allowing over 600,000 Macs to be infected or Oracle is... Read More . While updates can be a hassle Why Do Apps Nag Me To Update & Should I Listen? [Windows] Why Do Apps Nag Me To Update & Should I Listen? [Windows] Software update notifications seem like a constant companion on every computer. Every app wants to update regularly, and they nag us with notifications until we give in and update. These notifications can be inconvenient, especially... Read More , they’re essential. The bad guys are constantly finding holes in software, which need to be plugged.

Setting Windows Update and the other software on your computer to automatically check for and install updates is an easy way to stay safe without thinking about it. To ensure Windows Update is set to automatically install updates, click Start, type Windows Update, and press Enter. Click the Change Settings link in the sidebar to view your update settings.

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Use An Antivirus

An antivirus is an essential layer of protection. While you can try to stay safe by keeping your software updated, only visiting safe websites, and installing only trusted software, there’s always a chance something could slip through. A new security hole in your browser could be exploited, or a trusted website could have become compromised.

An antivirus program is another line of defense. You don’t have to pay anything for an antivirus – there are some great free options. If you have an antivirus installed, leave it on its default scanning settings, which will automatically scan everything in the background. Antivirus programs will generally perform regular, full-system scans, so you don’t have to worry about initiating any scans yourself.

Test Your Firewall

You should also be using a firewall How Does A Firewall Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] How Does A Firewall Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] There are three pieces of software that, in my opinion, make the backbone of a decent security setup on your home PC. These are the anti-virus, the firewall, and the password manager. Of these, the... Read More – if you’re using a standard consumer router, it already effectively functions as a firewall. Even if you aren’t using a router, Windows comes with a firewall built in. To make sure your firewall is working properly, you can use the GRC Shields-Up test, which scans your IP address and detects if your firewall is blocking access to network ports.

Secure Your Wi-Fi

Securing your Wi-Fi network is particularly important. If you choose the wrong settings for your Wi-Fi networks and leave it open to the public, you could have all sorts of problems – everything from people snooping on your web browsing activity to people using your Internet connection for illegal things that would be traced back to you.

Ensure you’re using encryption for your wireless network – you should have to enter a passphrase when you connect a new device to your network. You should also be using WPA or WPA2 as your encryption type – the older WEP encryption can be broken.

To change your encryption settings, navigate to your router’s web administration page 7 Important Features Your Wireless Router Has And You Should Be Using 7 Important Features Your Wireless Router Has And You Should Be Using If you think a wireless router’s only job is to connect you to the world of the Internet, you’re missing out on a lot of its awesome goodness. Sure, maybe all you need is Internet... Read More (you’ll find instructions to access this page in your router’s manual) and look for the wireless security section.

The MUO Security Checklist: What You Need To Do Right Now To Be Safe wireless router security

Do you have any other security tips to share? Leave a comment and let us know what you do to stay safe online.

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