by Staff Writer
There are two kinds of hackers in the world: Those who access your computer just because they can and those who do it because they are thieves. Regardless of the intruder's intentions, you don't want them getting to the personal information on your computer, potentially harming your computer in the process. Security and utilities software is just one of the options you have to protect yourself. If you'd like to avoid having to take your computer in for repairs because of the damage done by an intruder, worse yet having to undo the damage that can be caused by identify theft, consider these tips to keep your computer safe from hackers.
Before connecting your computer to the Internet, it's important to install a firewall. A firewall can be in the form of a software firewall that you install on each of your computers or a stand-alone firewall device, or it might be a feature on your router. Firewalls are your first line of defense that prevents hackers from getting a window of opportunity into your computer. Intruders will be blocked right away by the firewall and probably will move on to another victim with easier access before they attempt to get through your firewall.
Install antivirus software and keep it up-to-date. Viruses are a common method that hackers can use to give themselves access to an unsuspecting computer.
Consider using an Internet email account as your primary email account instead of using an email program on your computer. Some email programs will, by default, save email attachments automatically. This means that the virus would be put on your computer as soon as you check your email, waiting to be run so it can infect your computer. (In the earlier days of the Internet's popularity, it wasn't unheard of for email programs to both save the virus and run it, basically activating it the moment you checked your email. Fortunately, many people have learned to not leave themselves so vulnerable.) Many Web-based email services are free and loaded with features, and they keep you one step further away from damaging viruses.
Only open email attachments from people you know; even then, you should scan the attachment with an antivirus program before opening it. People you trust may have had their files infected with a virus without realizing it.
Choose better passwords. Some programs won't allow you to use your own name or a known sequence like "12345." Passwords like this may be easy to remember, but they're also easy for a hacker to guess. Avoid using your date of birth, the name of someone close to you or your social security number as a password. The "strongest" passwords aren't real words and they have numbers and other characters in them. For example, a password such as "n6x?f4_h" is significantly less likely to be guessed than a password based on a piece of personal information. Don't use the same password for everything either because if the hackers figure out the password for one account, they'll have access to any other accounts you might have. Be mindful of your passwords. Give them to no one.
Understand that firewalls are not impenetrable. They are, however, highly likely to discourage any potential intruders that don't have a specific reason to want to access your computer. Having a firewall is not an excuse to open potential viruses, visit malicious websites or do anything else that might bring harm to your computer.