January 05, 2006
I recommend unplugging the DSL/Cable modem overnight. I have mine plugged into the same powerstrip as the tower and turn it all off.
A few other suggestions:
Make sure you have XP Service Pack 2 (SP2). You can tell through System Properties (in Control Panel). If you don't have SP2, Windows Update will install it, but it is a big download. You can get a free CD with SP2.
Make sure Windows Update is set to automatically download and install updates daily -- check that the time it looks for updates is a time your computer is actually on (I think the default is 3am -- no good for me -- so I changed it to 12 noon). You'll find Automatic Updates in Control Panel IF you have SP2. There's a brand new security update today -- you have to stay current.
There are a couple of settings you may want to check on your DSL or cable modem. Usually you access a configuration screen for the modem itself through the browser. Most modems default to two less secure conditions. First, most use WEP instead of WPA (a newer encryption standard -- www.webopedia.com is a good place to look up computer acronyms). So, you may want to enable WPA. Second, most modems broadcast their IDs, as in "I'm over here and my ID is..." This makes it easier to find and establish the connection. So, you're looking to turn off something that may be called SSID broadcast.
Any Internet connection needs a software firewall. It is easiest to use the Windows Firewall (in Control Panel). Some people don't believe that is as secure as other firewalls. Your anti-virus software (next item) may include a firewall. A lot of people like ZoneAlarm (www.zonelabs.com).
You must have anti-virus software. Commercial favorites include Norton/Symantec and McAfee. I use a free program from www.avast.com . Make sure you know this is actually running (usually an icon near the clock) and it is automatically updated.
Anti-spyware is another thing everyone needs. There are suites with all of these things, but I use Microsoft's free anti-spyware program (which expires in July 2006). See http://www.microsoft.com/athome/security/spyware/software/ .
You probably know the other advice: never open attachments from someone you don't know or that otherwise seem suspicious (like an attachment from a friend who never sends attachments). Don't even open or preview suspect email.
Do you have a backup of your most precious files (photos, financials stuff, address book)? Do you have a safe copy of the software used to create that backup? I think the easiest backups involve an external USB hard drive -- gives you a ton of room for the backup and can be stored off-site when you are out of town. Most external drives come with backup software, too.