Tips to Protect your Computer

Protecting IM and Social Media Platforms: This topic gets a little stickier because it covers so much ground. As with anything else in the security realm, being smart will help you avoid 90% of the problems out there. Note that there are encryption options (both embedded and via third-party tools) that are available for a number of IM chat clients. There are also scanning services that can be provided by your security suite to prevent you from clicking on malicious embedded links, or opening files that are shared with you through these types of channels. Overall, just do your research and look at which IM services and which social media platforms you actually use. Then decide which tools will meet your needs. The goal here is to keep yourself protected from accidental information disclosure, and from malicious code (viruses, spyware, etc.).

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Protecting the Mail Client: Sure Outlook dominates in this space, but Thunderbird is also a strong option. But then of course you could be one of those folks who use Gmail for everything. My assumption is that you are security-minded though, so let’s also assume that cloud-based e-mail is not your cup of tea. One of the features that should be included in your security suite is an anti-spam, anti-fishing, anti-bad e-mail option. Personally, I don’t find the anti-spam features of my security suites to be all that useful, so I also use SpamAssassin on my mail server and SpamBayes on my mail client. Plus my proxy server also does some filtering work on my behalf. But also be sure to consider the features and functions built into your mail program itself – like disabling images from being shown, viewing header details, etc. And, as with the browser options, there are also a number of security-based add-ons available for most mail clients. Do your research and see what’s available for your own needs. As a side note – PLEASE USE SSL for connecting to your mail server. Don’t toss your mail credentials and messages into the void by using open, clear text mail services.

Protecting Your Passwords: These days we have a TON of passwords we have to remember (at least you should have a ton of passwords if you are doing security correctly). The problem is – how do you keep all of those passwords straight? Especially if you are adding the level of complexity you should be (at least 8 characters with upper and lower case, numbers, special characters, etc.; or better yet an actual passphrase that is a bit longer and uses some of the same character types). Anyway, you’ll likely need to store these passwords somewhere. No, adding them to an excel spreadsheet is NOT a good option. Instead, look into using one of the many encrypted password storage tools that are available. My favorite is PassWord Safe. Tools like this not only allow you to keep your passwords together in a secure location, they also offer features like copying and pasting (then deleting the cache) so you can punch your credentials directly into web pages, applications, etc. with just a few clicks of the mouse.

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Going Deeper with Encryption: We already discussed full disk encryption; we’ve also discussed e-mail protection. Now I want to discuss encryption in terms of e-mail, and in terms of creating ‘encrypted volumes’. PGP is my go-to of choice here. You can install the OpenPGP solution, or you can buy the Symantec suite, but either way, PGP encryption is a veritable must for secure communications. As for encrypted volumes, this is a handy way of dealing with USB storage devices. Instead of just putting your data on the device, you can create a secure volume that you mount and unmount as needed (using a passphrase or a key). My recommendation is to combine these two functions – by removing your private keys from your laptop and storing them on an encrypted volume that is protected by a passphrase. Your private key is indeed the ‘key to the kingdom’ and should be protected from loss or harm. You can use encrypted volumes in a number of other creative ways – basically anytime you need to protect a particular subset of data with stronger controls (like if you were to store sensitive data to a cloud server or a network accessible storage device for instance).

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