Winter  2008      Vol. 17, No. 1  REAP HOME PAGE  A publication of the Center for Rural Affairs    
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Personal Computer Security: Avoiding Viruses, Spyware, and other Types of Attacks

Almost all of our computers at work are connected directly to the Internet and, with the proliferation of cable modems and DSL services, a large number of home computers are directly connected as well. Unbeknownst to you, it is very likely that several times a day other computers are trying to find out information about you or if your computer can be taken over.

Here are the preventive steps you should follow to avoid viruses, phishing or pharming for personal information, spyware, Trojan horses, and other security attacks.

1. In Windows XP, set the Update feature to automatically download critical updates for you.

     1). Click on Start, then open the Control Panel. 
     2). In the Control Panel window, double-click on System. 
     3). In the System Properties dialog box, click on the Automatic Updates tab. Make sure
          the Automatic option is active. 
     4). Close the Control Panel window.

In previous versions of Windows you will need to run the Update utility frequently. Updates usually come out Tuesday mornings.

2. Make sure your anti-virus software updates at least once a day. You will need to check your anti-virus software for this.

3. Avoid attacks through e-mail.

     1). Do NOT Open or Preview suspect messages, especially fraudulent e-cards or e-mails that
          appear to be from financial organizations. 
      o Do NOT open e-mails or attachments with generic titles like “photos from a family member.” 
      o Legitimate e-card notifications tell you who the card is from. 
      o If you are concerned about your financial account, contact the organization using a telephone
         number or Web address you received directly from the institution, not in an e-mail note.
     2). Do NOT open or launch any e-mail attachments that you are not expecting. 
     3). Limit spam e-mail with a spam filter.
     4). Scan ALL files on your computer at least once a month for virus infections and other
          security threats.
     5). Install Windows Defender, a free program from Microsoft that helps protect your computer
          against security threats caused by spyware and other unwanted software. For information on
          other software options, do a Google search for “stopping spyware.”
      6). Do NOT run services on your computer that you don’t absolutely need, for instance a web server.
      7). Use a firewall to block unwanted access. The default Windows XP installation starts with the Microsoft Firewall being active. Your computer will need more protection — either by a hardware firewall or a different, stronger software firewall. The preferred method is to add protection with a network or Cable/DSL router firewall. (For an explanation of firewall technology, please refer to the online article; see end of article for the URL.) For more information on firewall product options, please do a Google search for “personal computer firewall.”
      8). Do NOT share Drive C: because viruses and network attacks can spread through the network by finding shared hard drives. To check your settings, open My Computer and right-click on the Drive C: icon. Choose Sharing and Security... from the shortcut menu. (NOTE: In Windows 2000 & XP, you should only see the “Share name:” of C$. This is shared for administrative purposes only and is not a user-to-user sharing of the hard drive. But for this to be safe you must use a good password, mix of alpha and numeric characters, for your Windows network start up or log on.)

Source: Submitted online by Connie Hancock, Extension Educator - UNL CIT Computing. Personal Computer Security: avoiding viruses, spyware, and other attacks by Pamela Peters, CIT.

This article and others are available on the University of Nebraska Extension eTraining website,

The site includes eBusiness, eAgriculture, eKnowledge, eCommunity and Podcasting technology educational programs. Also check out the eTech Tips podcast – linked on the eTraining site – for information from basic, to eAg to eBusiness available in audio for your listening pleasure.

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