Update your computer's virus protection software - install patches for its operating system and software programs to defend against intruders, viruses and spyware that can compromise files and passwords. While doing this, you may even want to consider scheduling automatic virus scan updates.
Only store financial information on your computer that is necessary; and, protect access to your programs by using something called a "strong" password -- a combination of letters and numbers (upper and lower case) to ward off possible identity thieves. A good way to create a strong password is to come up with a memorable phrase. For example, "I ward off danger, by practicing safety first, becomes 1W0DBPSf.
Never use an automatic login feature to populate user name and password fields - features such as these help thieves gain access to your personal information.
Use a firewall program if you use a high-speed Internet connection like cable, DSL or T-1 that leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. Without it, hackers can take over your computer, access the personal information stored on it, or use it for other fraudulent purposes.
Never open files, click on hyperlinks or download programs from people or companies you don't know. Also, be aware that some popular file-sharing programs can make your computer vulnerable -- enabling others the ability to capture passwords and other information you type from your keyboard.
Prior to sharing information or making a purchase, look for indicators that the site is secure. For example, at the bottom of the data entry screen, check to make sure a lock icon appears on the browser's status bar (usually located at the lower right-hand portion of your screen) or the URL for a Web site is displayed as "https:" (the "s" stands for secure).
Always type the URL of the Web site you want to visit into your browser - don't click on links that are sent to you. Another precaution is to click a site's VeriSign Seal. By following these two guidelines, you can be confident you are trafficking an authentic site -- not the work of some imposter trying to deceive you into divulging your confidential passwords or other information.
Install antispyware software to help protect your computer against pop-ups, slow performance, and security threats caused by spyware and other unwanted software. To keep up with the latest forms of spyware, you must keep your antispyware software updated.
Check your Internet browsers security settings. There is an increasing threat from software attacks that take advantage of vulnerable web browsers. It is important to understand the functionality and features of the web browser you use. Enabling some web browser features may lower security. For more information, visit the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) site.
Secure your wireless network. Hackers can take advantage of an unsecured wireless network to send data from your connection and access files on your computer. You'll also want to be careful about what data you submit online when connecting to unsecured wireless hot spots.