Many of us depend on our computers for far more than work-relate tasks. More and more people are using their computers to manage their social, financial, and even romantic lives. With personal computing paying such an important role in our daily lives, maintaining computer security at all times is a must. Before connecting a new computer to the Internet, follow the steps below to make your network more secure.
- Connect the New Computer to a Secure Network
If possible, connect the computer behind a hardware-based firewall or firewall router. A network firewall or firewall router blocks inbound access to the computers on your Local Area Network (LAN) by unauthorized Internet users. A hardware-based firewall solution generally provides sufficient protection for downloading and installing necessary software patches on a new computer. If your firewall or router provides Network Address Translation (NAT), you won’t need to enable any additional firewalls if:
- The new computer is the only machine connected to the LAN: or
- All other computers connected to the LAN are up to date with the latest patches and known to be free of viruses or other malicious code.
- Enable the Firewall Software Included With the Computer
Most new computers include a built-in firewall application. You should turn on this firewall to clock other computers on the Internet from accessing your networks. If your operating system doesn’t include a firewall program, consider installing a free or low-cost firewall application from third-party vendor.
- Disable Unnecessary Services
Certain nonessential services, such as file and print sharing, can leave your system vulnerable to attacks if allowed to run during the upgrade process. Print and file sharing are not usually enabled by default on most operating systems, but you’ll want to make sure this feature is disabled in your old computer’s settings before upgrading a new computer to a new operating system. You can re-enable file and print sharing if needed once all necessary patches have been installed.
- Download and Install Security Patches
After connecting your new computer to your network behind either a network firewall or firewall router and turning off file and print sharing, you should be able to safely connect to the network to download and install any relevant security patches. This is the most important step in protecting your computer against threats from viruses, worms, and other malicious programs. According to US CERT, most computer hacking incidents could have been prevented if users and system administrators kept their computers updated with the latest patches and security fixes. If you skip this step, you could be exposing your entire network to exploitation. Download security patches only from known, trusted vendors to minimize the possibility of intruders gaining access to your network.
- Install Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware Software
To protect your computer on an ongoing basis, install an anti-virus and anti-spyware program like We Hate Malware and keep it up to date. Anti-virus software uses a regularly-updated database of virus definitions to detect the presence of malware in your computer’s files and memory. Anti-virus vendors are always creating new virus definitions to keep their software effective against newly discovered threats. Most anti-virus and anti-spyware applications offer automatic updating. Enable this feature so your Anti-virus program always has the most current definitions. If your anti-virus or anti-spyware software doesn’t offer an automatic update feature, be sure to install virus definition updates from the vendor’s website or another reputable source.
- Remove Bloatware and Unnecessary Software
Bloatware – unneeded programs pre-installed by the computer’s manufacturer – can not only slow your computer down, these programs can also leave your system vulnerable to attack. The less software you have installed, the fewer opportunities intruders have to access your computer. Check the list of programs installed on your computer. If you don’t recognize a program and don’t use it, do a quick Internet search to determine whether you can safely remove the software.
Before removing unnecessary software, be sure to back up your important files and data. By removing certain applications, you may accidentally remove files essential to your operating system. If you remove these programs, you’ll need to reinstall them using the media (CD or DVD) included with your computer.
- Configure Your Web Browser
Most web browsers’ settings aren’t secure by default. Securing your web browser is a frequently ignored step in improving a computer’s security. A growing number of virus attacks are taking advantage of vulnerabilities in web browsers, do be sure to choose secure settings for your particular browser. US Cert provides instructions for securing the most popular web browsers.
Following the above tips should keep your network safe and your new machine happy for years to come. Happy surfing!
Bill Gordon has been writing on tech and malware subjects for 6 years and has been working in the internet and tech industry for over 15 years. He currently lives in Southern California.