PC and Laptop security

Windows Updates

It is important that your PC or Laptop has the latest updates installed.

Software isn't perfect, and that's why most software companies give you updates.

To ensure that the latest Windows updates are downloaded and installed, you should check that your computer is set up as follows:

Windows XP

From the Start menu, click ‘Control Panel’. Select ‘Automatic Updates’, then ensure that ‘Automatic (recommended)’ is selected.

Windows Vista

From the Start menu, click ‘Control Panel’. Select ‘Security’, then click ‘Turn automatic updating on or off’ (under Windows Update). Ensure ‘Install updates automatically (recommended)’ is selected.

Windows 7

From the Start menu, click ‘Control Panel’. Select ‘System and Security’, then click ‘Turn automatic updating on or off’ (under Windows Update). Ensure ‘Install updates automatically (recommended)’ is selected.

Windows 8 

From the Start menu, click 'Control Panel'. Select 'Windows Update', then click 'Install optional updates'. In the left pane, 'click Change settings'. Under Important updates, choose the option that you want. Under 'Recommended updates', select the 'Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates' check box, and then click 'OK.'  You may be asked for an admin password or to confirm your choice.

 

In the left-hand pane, click Change Settings. 
Under Important Updates, select Install updates automatically.

Your IT department might set automatic updates for you. If they do, you'll see the message in the yellow bar, and you won't be able to use the Important Updates list or set dates and times, like so:

Automatic update settings

Select any other options, and remember your computer has to be on at the time you selected to install new updates.

Anti Virus Software

It is vital to keep your antivirus software up to date in order to provide the most complete protection. Thousands of new viruses are detected every year, to say nothing of the variants of new and existing ones. Each has a set of characteristics or ‘signatures’ that enable antivirus software manufacturers to detect them and produce suitable updates.

Most antivirus software automatically downloads these updates (sometimes referred to as ‘definitions’) on a regular basis, as long as you are online and have paid your annual subscription (for a paid-for product). This should ensure protection against even the latest virus threats.

Antivirus software scans for viruses in a number of different ways:

  • It scans incoming emails for attached viruses. 

  • It monitors files as they are opened or created to make sure they are not infected. 

  • It performs periodic scans of the files on your computer.

Some antivirus software also scans USB connected devices (eg memory sticks, external hard drives, MP3 players), as they are connecting. Some also highlights suspect websites.

Antivirus software will not protect you against:

  • Spam. 

  • Any kind of fraud or criminal activity online not initiated by a virus. 

  • A hacker trying break into your computer over the internet.

  • It is not effective if it is switched off or not updated with the latest virus signatures.

Firewall

Personal firewalls should be installed on each computer that is connected to the internet and monitors (and blocks, where necessary) internet traffic. They are also sometimes known as ‘software firewalls’ or ‘desktop firewalls’.

Windows Firewall is a basic personal firewall. It is free, included with Windows operating systems. In Windows 8,  Windows 7 and Vista, the Firewall defaults to active, so you do not need to worry about configuring it yourself.

If you wish, you could replace Windows Firewall with another personal firewall of your choice, including the type incorporated in some internet security packages, or standalone firewall software which can be downloaded from the internet, some of which is free of charge.

A firewall protects you against:

  •  Hackers breaking into your computer. 

  • Worms – types of viruses that spread from computer to computer over the internet. 

  • Some outgoing traffic originating from a virus infection.

What a firewall does NOT do:

A firewall isn’t sufficient on its own to guarantee security, but it is the first line of defence. You also need to take the other protective steps . However, a firewall provides limited or no protection against the following:

  •  If you give permission for other computers to connect to yours. 

  • If it is switched off, disabled or contains many exceptions or open ports.

  • Most viruses. 

  • Spam. 

  • Spyware installations. 

  • Any kind of fraud or criminal activity online. 

  • If you or a virus has created a back door through the firewall. 

  • People with physical access to your computer or network. 

  • Data introduced to the computer other than online, eg via USB connected devices, CD/DVD etc. 

  • Attacks after a network has been compromised. 

  • Traffic that appears to be legitimate.

However, none of these things give a reason NOT to install a firewall, as this alone is not enough for complete security.

It is safest to assume that your internet service provider does NOT provide any kind of firewall, so make sure you have the right software to protect yourself.