Think about all of the personal files on your computer. Now imagine what you’d do if someone swiped the machine from you.
It’s a scary thought, but before you chain your computer to your desk, remember that safeguarding the information stored inside your computer is more important than protecting the replaceable technology. “You can’t stop thieves from stealing [a computer], but you can stop them from accessing what’s on it,” says Rosaleen Citron, CEO of WhiteHat Inc., a Toronto-based IT security provider. Laptop theft continues to rise — 620,000 were stolen in the US last year, reports insurance agency Safeware — so people need to stop thinking it won’t happen to them, says Citron. Even if you never lose your actual computer to theft, hackers can snoop through your files remotely and sell your personal data.
If you don’t protect your confidential information, you could be one of the latest victims of identity theft. For example, all a thief needs is your name, date of birth and SIN (which they could get from your old tax files) to open a new credit card account in your name, raking up debt. Clearing your name can take time, effort and money.
Ready to give PC pirates the boot? Here are Citron’s three best tips on protecting your vital information:
- Always backup. If you lose your files, you’ve got problems, but if you have a copy of them, you’re better off. Most of us know the importance of backing up information, but do we do this diligently? Make it part of your routine — once a week, once a day — to save information to floppies or CDs. While you’re duplicating your files, delete personal or confidential information you no longer use.
- Protect with passwords. At the very least, make sure your computer is protected with passwords — the trickier, the better. “It’s like locking the front door,” says Citron. So, if your laptop goes missing, a thief would have to crack this lock — usually too much of a hassle for someone who only wants the hardware. Use the Help function on your computer to find out how to set up passwords. Another block to use is a firewall, which prevents theft of your information over the Internet. Firewalls stop hackers from viewing the ports you visit. WhiteHat offers a free firewall download and other tips on keeping peepers out at www.whitehatadvisory.com
- Stay on top of your patching. Patches are used to plug holes in your computer software. Every week, hackers find 60 to 70 vulnerabilities that they can use to break into computers. Back in September, the “Bug Bear” virus targeted computers with Windows 98, especially ones that had not been patched. The virus allowed the unidentified hacker to monitor every keystroke the user made, including passwords. To keep abreast on patches and other security updates, go to www.microsoft.com and go to Windows Updates. Users of Mac OS X don’t need to do a thing: Software Update automatically checks weekly for necessary patches.
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© 2003 Karen Kelly