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10 most dangerous things you can do to compromise
your computer's security.

1. Use a password that is easy to guess.

Examples: "password", your name, your cat's name, any name at all, any word that can be found in a dictionary.

Complete computer security is impossible to achieve. The good news is that by following some simple steps and applying common sense, you can dramatically decrease your chances of having computer-related problems.

Why it is dangerous: Hackers routinely use so-called 'dictionary attacks'. They simply run the entire dictionary against your password, so a password consisting of an English word will be cracked in seconds, if not faster.

Better: - use a random combination of letters (upper and lower cases), numbers and special characters (@, *, #, etc.).

Example: "hfdjje%*834k##1JK" is almost impossible to crack by brute force, unlike a password such as "nice".

Free Password Helper.

Although it's not very difficult to come up with a new password, some people use various types of password generators. For example, Free Password Helper is a simple program that can help you in creating passwords. The password is created based on a word or a phrase of your choice and a numerical shift mask also of your choice.

For example, if you enter a word "water" and mask "00000" the password will be "water". If you change the mask to "12345", the password will change to "xcwiw". Generally, "xcwiw" is harder to break than "water". The advantage of this method of generating passwords is that you can re-generate a lost password if you can remember the starting word or phrase and the mask number that you used when you created the password.

The Windows version of Free Password Helper can be downloaded here.

Note: The passwords generated by Free Password Helper software are not completely secure. Under no circumstances should you rely on these passwords to protect any sensitive information.

2. Use broadband (e.g. DSL or Cable) without a firewall.

Most people in this country lock their doors every night and buy car alarms. Isn't it amazing that the same people who lock their cars and houses don't bother to lock their computers from thousands of crooks constantly scanning the Internet for unprotected computers?

Most people find it hard to understand that in order to inflict damage, hackers don't have to live next door to you or even in the same country. They don't need to know you personally. In fact, many of them are just using special software that lets them scan millions of computers with much less effort and skill than it takes an old-fashioned burglar to pick a lock.

Your best defense against this is a good firewall. Without getting too technical, suffice it to say that a firewall acts somewhat like a cloaking device from Star Trek by making your computer invisible to the hacker. Good firewalls also guard your computer from attacks from within by telling you when an unauthorized program is trying to access the Internet. This makes firewalls great tools against the spyware.

3. Disable a firewall.

Some people heard somewhere that firewalls are important and even installed one on their computer. Unfortunately, the firewall turned out to be a nuisance because every minute or so it would popup with a cryptic warning with some strange words and even stranger numbers. So, to keep things simple, they decide to get rid of the pest.

Bad idea! Would you get rid of a dog that barks to warn you of intruders? When the firewall is telling you that somebody is trying to get into your computer, thank it, don't shut it off! Actually, most firewalls will let you disable the warning messages, so in a few days your protector will be well-behaved and won't bother you too much.

4. Send passwords and other sensitive information via unprotected email.

Most people would be surprised to find out that regular email is not protected. Hackers can easily intercept email pockets traveling over cyberspace, just like guys with scanners can listen to conversations over the old cordless phones. For this reason shouting your passwords, social security numbers, etc. from a street corner is actually less dangerous than sending the same information through regular email.

5. Respond to "phishing" requests.

Some criminals like to add a "human touch" to their activities. Instead of going after your bank or credit card information by breaking into your computer, they simply ask you for it. Take a look this "masterpiece":

Dear Bank***.com Customer, During our regular update and verification of the Internet Banking Accounts, we could not verify your current information. Either your information has been changed or incomplete, as a result your access to use our services has been limited. Please update your information. To update your account information and start using our services please click on the link below: https://www.bank***.com/net AFTER SUBMITTING, PLEASE DONOT ACCESS YOUR ONLINE BANKING ACCOUNT FOR THE NEXT 48 HOURS UNTIL THE VERIFICATION PROCESS ENDS. Note: Requests for information will be initiated by Bank*** Business Development; this process cannot be externally requested through Customer Support. Sincerely, Bank***.com Security Department.

It is very easy for the hackers to create a web page that looks like your bank's page and trick you into entering your ID, password and other things that you would want to keep secret.

Most messages like the one shown above are scams, however if you have reasons to believe that an email asking you to login and update or verify your information is legitimate, it is a good idea to contact your financial institution first by telephone or in person.

6. Share your computer with a teenager.

Of course, there are exceptions. Nevertheless, many teenagers like music, especially when it's free. The same goes for games and other fun stuff. And who can blame them? Unfortunately, the file-sharing software that they use is virtually custom-made to the hackers' specifications. Any computer with a program like Morpheus, Kazaa, LimeWire, etc. should be considered infected by viruses, worms and spyware unless proven otherwise. If somebody in your family insists on using file-sharing software, consider designating a separate computer for that.

7. Install free software from sources you don't know well.

The best things in life are free. This usually is not true when it comes to software. After all, somebody has to design, write and test it. Somebody also has to pay for maintaining that website where you downloaded the software from. There are a lot of "free" software programs supported by advertisements. They will even mention it somewhere in the 23rd paragraph of the License Agreement that you have surely perused before hitting the "Install" button. Some programs are more malicious than others.

On the other hand, there exist quite a few high-quality free programs. They are either old versions, teasers for commercial products, marketing vehicles, etc. The bottom line - if you are getting something for free, apply some common-sense and think about why it is actually free.

8. Open emails from strangers and run the attachment.

Some things are almost impossible to understand, and we aren't talking about the general theory of relativity here.

The genius who invented email most likely had no idea that in addition to helping people to share information cheaply and almost instantaneously, email can become an ideal medium for disseminating computer viruses and other malicious software. Hackers quickly learned to use email attachments to send their destructive payloads. They also learned particularly well how to exploit numerous vulnerabilities in Microsoft Outlook that in addition to being a pretty neat email client turned out to be an almost perfect gateway for email viruses and worms.

To protect yourself, make sure that you open only email that doesn't look suspicious. Be ten times more careful with messages that include attachments, even if they appear to be from your friends. Numerous programs exist that fight email viruses and spam, but nothing can replace simple common sense.

9. Fail to update your Windows.

Microsoft Windows is a wonderful operating system that lets us do amazing things quickly and economically. Unfortunately, security came to Windows as an afterthought. Day after day new security holes are being discovered, publicized and eventually fixed. Even though updating Windows can be cumbersome, especially if you don't have broadband connection, people who fail to update have only themselves to blame in case they become victims of an exploit already fixed by Microsoft.

10. Click Yes on "Installing IE plug-ins" popup while surfing the Internet.

Everybody who spends a few hours a day surfing the Internet has seen those "friendly" offers of free software appearing seemingly out of nowhere. Free self-adjusting atomic clock, etc. The trouble with this free software is that it doesn't come alone. It will usually install some other things on your computer that you won't necessarily like. Namely, programs tracking your every move on the Internet, redirecting you to the website that you never wanted to see, feeding you with deceptive ads and so on. So before clicking "yes", think!

Computer security is a complex subject and the truth is that it's almost impossible to completely secure a given computer. The good news is that by following some simple steps and applying common sense, you can dramatically decrease your chances of having computer-related problems.

We included here just some of the things that many people do out of ignorance. After carefully reading this list you will be way ahead of an average computer user as far as safe computing is concerned.

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Updated on August 26, 2012.