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Still scared of those three words, “I love you”? Six tips to thwart hackers and crackers.

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It’s been a whole decade since the Loveletter virus said “I love you” to millions of email recipients across the world and caused email systems to grind to a halt.

Once upon a time, coke-gulping teens would write malicious code so that their friends, and possibly the geek world, would bow down to their cyber brilliance.

These days, the motivation for disrupting a network is usually a commercial one with the main objective to retrieve your private information and steal your credit card details.

Because of this the fear of “I love you” and other cyber virus’ is much more real. It doesn’t just affect the cyber world anymore but you and your real world as well.

So, it’s very important that you understand what you can do to protect yourself from a broken heart and a hacked bank account.

Here are six things you can do to maximise your protection against today’s threats:

1. Automate your Microsoft updates.

Most virus writers exploit vulnerabilities (or “holes”) in the Microsoft operating system. So, updating your software automatically with Microsoft Update is a strong and simple first line of defence against threats. The Microsoft Update site scans your computer and gives you a list of updates that are relevant to your computer and its configuration. Click here to open up your Microsoft Update screen and then change your settings to update automatically.

2. Create and maintain strong passwords

It sounds obvious, right? Keeping and using strong passwords, and changing them regularly, is often done poorly but it is a very important step in keeping your private data secure. Hackers can test between one million and fifteen million passwords per second, which means a basic 6-letter password can be cracked almost instantaneously. Ideally, passwords should be long (10+ characters) and use the entire keyboard, not just the letters and characters you use or see most often. Here is a great online tool to test the strength of your passwords.

3. Invest in total protection – Antivirus alone is not enough

It’s not a 100% guarantee but your risk of being compromised is significantly lower when you use comprehensive security software. Antivirus software is not enough anymore. You need a firewall, anti-phishing, anti-spyware, anti-spam and anti-virus and thanks to the helpful geeks out there these days you can buy all of these features in one package. Two popular brands are Trend Micro and Symantec. Be wary of free security software because free tools are often not updated regularly enough and the true value of security software is in its ability to stay up-to-date to combat the latest virus outbreaks.

4. Don’t click on unknown links or attachments

Never click on unfamiliar links embedded in an e-mail and never open attachments from unknown senders. Check for anything unusual even in links you do recognise since slightly altered domain names could indicate that a site has been hijacked. It is quite easy for hackers to “spoof” which means they send an email that appears to be from a legitimate domain (e.g. [email protected]) but is not. If it doesn’t look right then it probably isn’t.

5. Download files only from trusted sites

You should only download files from known, well-established sources. Never download anything if you’re not certain what it is. And here’s a tip – when in doubt, don’t download the file to your computer at all. Instead before you download, insert your USB drive, download the file onto this drive, and then check the files by performing a manual scan with your desktop virus scanning software.

6. Watch the back-doors: Instant Messenger, and your phone.

The first phone virus was created in 2004 with only a few infections reported. Today, more and more malicious code is written to attack your computer via your phone or your instant messaging (aka ‘chat’) tools. The protection software mentioned above will scan both of these back-doors. If you have an iPhone you can download a free web protection tool from here to protect your phone whilst surfing the Internet.

In the business of cyber attacks, most hackers and virus writers target those who have their guard down when they connect to the Internet. By employing the six tips above I can’t guarantee 100% protection but I can assure you that the overwhelming majority of Internet-borne threats won’t stand a chance.

Do you know of any other great tips to protect your information? Have you been duped? Share your tips and experiences as a comment below and let’s all help each other protect ourselves from “I love you” and other scams.

Joel Montgomery is the founder of PowerBuy.com.au, a free I.T. coupon and cash-back service for small Australian businesses

Image by Pink Sherpet Photography

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