Computer Security

Computers are becoming more and more secure. At the same time, criminals are always finding new ways of installing malware in the users’ computers. Security is not a permanent state but a continuous process. The most important link in this process is a user capable of defending him- or herself.

Anti-virus software is your most important assistant

Anti-virus software is the first line of help in the fight against computer viruses. Viruses erase all data, copy and forward information about the user, etc. Viruses are not created for fun but to generate money. Consequently, they are usually written for Windows, the most widely used operating system in the world. Anti-virus software analyses each file and eliminates the detected viruses.

Use a firewall

A firewall acts as a guard and decides which information can access your computer and which cannot. Every operating system (e.g. Windows, Linux etc) now comes with a built-in firewall. It is important not to turn it off. Several firewall software programmes supply automatic configurations, for example high, medium or low security settings. Firewalls are a common component in many anti-virus software suites and can also be installed as stand-alone applications.

Depending on the security level:

  • data will be automatically allowed to pass through,
  • data will be allowed to pass through or not depending on the user’s choice,
  • data will be denied passage automatically.

Update your operating system

Software developers work hard to ensure that their products work well and fix the discovered security holes as fast as possible. For that purpose, they release security patches. Applications typically notify users of the new patches available for download and installation. If you have turned off automatic updates, they can be downloaded from the operating system’s website.

Back up your data

No storage medium will last forever; this also applies to your computer’s hard drive. If you store important documents, messages or pictures on your computer and would hate to lose them, save these files in a certain folder and create back-ups. These copies can be stored on CDs, DVDs, external hard drives or with your Internet service provider.

Take caution when reading email

Most users receive junk email, also known as spam, which promises prizes or cheap products. The goal of such messages is to deceive people to give out information and money or to coax people into clicking on hyperlinks which infect the computer with malware. Do not open email attachments from people you do not know and do not click on links in emails.

As junk mail can also spread without the knowledge of the computer’s owner, do not open files with suspicious extensions (e.g .exe, .com, .bat, .pif, .zip), even if they are sent by someone you know. If a friend who mainly speaks Estonian unexpectedly starts sending out email in a foreign language, ask them to check their computer for infections. Requests to download a specific media player to better access the content of a website should also not be taken seriously. It is highly probable that viruses are included with the software.

Use a strong passwords and an ID card

Passwords are meant to protect information. The first thing an intruder enters as the password will most likely be your name, birth date, the license number of your car or the string “admin123”. If this is not enough, the intruder will use a special piece of software, which at first tries to access the computer by inputting words from a dictionary. If your password consists of more sophisticated combinations, the break-in time might be long enough to make the intruder give up.

  • Password lengths may vary – several online banks and applications require the password to consist of at least 6 characters.
  • Use different passwords for different services
  • Passwords have to be sophisticated enough. Use different characters – uppercase and lowercase letters, numerals, non-alphanumeric symbols.
  • Do not write your passwords down; instead, develop a system for remembering them.
  • Many hackers try to inject computers with keystroke reading software (keyloggers) to collect information, for instance bank account passwords. An ID card or a PIN code calculator can be extremely helpful against that. The ID card should only be in the reader for as long as necessary. An exception can be made if the ID card is used to access a workplace computer – in this case your employer will ensure that the company’s computers are free of viruses.

Take caution when downloading software

Many applications, which can be installed for free, circulate on the Internet. These programmes usually come without a manual or a guide that would explain how to uninstall the programme later on. This is a clear sign that the software can be malicious. Therefore, before downloading and installing a new programme, try to figure out whether or not you really need the software and what are the potential security risks.

Protecting your privacy on the Internet

While online, there is usually no way to look another person in the eye and make sure what their true intentions are. For example, a person who introduces herself as a 14-year-old girl may actually be a 50-year-old man. Therefore, one should be cautious when an online acquaintance wants to meet in the “real world”. When asked for personal information – name, social security number, home address, phone number, bank account number, email address – make sure to find out what the data will be used for and how it is going to be protected before forwarding it. Also, keep in mind that a bank will never ask you to supply data or ask you to change your online account password via an email.

Consider various options

In addition to Microsoft Windows, there are many different operating systems from the Mac OS and Linux families. The most important goal for a criminal is money; therefore, they target the most widely used operating system in the world. Ask a specialist for advice to determine which operating system suits you best. Still, if you use your computer only to play games, there is no competition for Windows.

Seek advice from a specialist

If you are uncomfortable around computers, do not hesitate to seek guidance from experts. If you do not happen to have a friend who is a computer specialist, ask a computer vendor or an Internet service provider. Many such establishments offer a service to clean the computer of viruses. At the same time they can give you advice on keeping your computer safe in the future.

What to do if

  • …there is a virus in your computer? Disconnect the computer from the network. Scan the computer with updated anti-virus software. If necessary, turn to your Internet service provider or a computer maintenance company for help.
  • …the computer has been penetrated and damage has been caused? Turn to your Internet service provider. You should go to the police in case of major damages and if necessary.
  • …your rights have been breached when processing personal data? Turn to the Data Protection Inspectorate.

Last amended: 15-02-2017 00:00 | Compiled by: Estonian Information System Authority