Another year, another 12 months of opportunity for hackers and cybercriminals to take advantage of many people's ignorance or passivity regarding computer security. Passwords will be cracked, computers will be hijacked and identities will be stolen.
But you don't have to be a victim. You can take charge of your own digital security by making the following six simple New Year's resolutions. Click "next" to proceed.
Most people's passwords are terrible. They're based on names, birthdates, common words or common character strings, such as "1234" or "qwerty," and they're easy to guess and even easier to "brute-force" by running combination possibilities through a computer.
So upgrade your security and create a strong password by using a long word or phrase of at least eight characters that's not in the dictionary. Mix in capital letters, numbers and punctuation marks. (For example, "wassup dude" could become "wA55uPd00d3!") Then create more strong passwords for every one of your online accounts.
Most Windows operating-system hacks exploit known weaknesses for which Microsoft has already pushed out fixes. Hackers count on the fact that millions of computer users are lazy and don't apply patches .
Make sure you're not one of those who reduces herd immunity. Go into Control Panel, select Windows Update, select Change Settings and change the setting to "Install updates automatically."
Every computer is vulnerable to malware, whether it's a PC, a Mac, a smartphone or a tablet. So do a little research, find anti-virus software that fits your needs we have guides here and here and install it.
Anti-virus software doesn't have to be expensive. Much of it is free, though we'd recommend using one of the paid versions for Windows machines. And it doesn't have to be complicated, as several vendors offer all-in-one suites that cover PCs, smartphones and tablets.
Your iPhone or Android phone may have cost a lot, but even more valuable is all the personal information you're carrying around in it all your emails, automatic logins to all your online accounts, phone numbers and addresses of all your friends and acquaintances, and often data related to your workplace. It can be a goldmine for an identity thief.
To make sure anyone who finds or steals your phone can't see your data, enable the screen lock , which asks for a PIN or traced pattern before the phone can be used. The phone can still be answered if it rings.
Malware does the most damage when it has the most ability to change, create or delete files on your computer. But on most machines, you have to be an "administrator" to do so, and malware "borrows" those permissions to do so.
To limit your exposure, create separate "limited" accounts, which can make fewer changes, for yourself and anyone else who uses the machine. Set aside the administrator account and log into it only when you're installing or removing software.
All modern computers have built-in software firewalls, but they're often not turned on by default. Make sure yours is. In Windows, go into Control Panel, select Windows Firewall and turn it on.
Along with properly patching your PC (see resolution No. 2), a switched-on firewall will go a long way toward screening out worms and other self-propelled malware.