How To Keep Your Computer Safe From Hackers, Thieves, Spyware, Viruses And Data Loss

Here are some specific recommendations about what to do to stay safe online. This is great idea no matter what you do online, but especially important if you plan to apply online for a loan.

Install Norton Systemworks

Install an Anti-Spyware program

Install a Firewall

Download Microsoft Updates Automatically

Back Up Your Data Frequently

Buy a Laptop Lock

Recover Your Laptop If It's Stolen!

Set Up a Windows Login

Password Protect Sensitive Files

Don't Get Reeled In By Phishing Scams (watch the video)

Sign Up for (Almost) Spam Free Email


Norton SystemWorks 2004 or 2005, which includes Norton Antivirus, scans your computer, and both incoming & outgoing e-mails for viruses. You can purchase Norton SystemWorks very inexpensively on ebay, and 1 year of updates and email scanning is included free with your purchase. The 2004 and 2005 versions are much easier to setup than prior versions. Check the settings to ensure that LiveUpdate is enabled, which updates the virus definitions. Keeping your virus definitions current is critical as new viruses are created daily.


Spyware can log your keystrokes, and steal credit card numbers and passwords as you submit them to a website. There are several programs available to detect and remove spyware. I use Spy Sweeper. It costs $30/year for virus definition updates. Another option is Ad-Aware which is rated #1 by Consumer Reports. Check your settings so that your virus definitions are updated weekly.


A Firewall helps keep your computer safe from hackers and is especially important if you have a high speed connection. I have used Tiny Firewall for years and it works great. Zone Alarm is another firewall program that is highly rated.


Microsoft Updates Keeping your operating system and programs up to date is important to prevent viruses. If you own a PC and run Windows then you can search for updates here. Better yet, you can install a Microsoft program that downloads any new updates automatically. Some people may be worried about letting Microsoft download new updates automatically to your computer. I�m much more worried about letting the bad guys have access to my computer by not keeping my system up to date.

Data Backup By following all my suggestions to keep your computer safe from viruses you will have a lower chance of a hard drive failure or data loss. Still, hard drives can and do crash every day. And there�s always the risk of fire or theft. Here are several backup options:

  1. IBackup allows you to back up your changed files nightly, weekly, or even hourly if you are really paranoid about data loss. IBackup is the 2004 PC Magazine Editors' choice for Online Backup and I have used it successfully for over 3 years now. You will want to download their desktop backup program which you can configure to scan any folder on your computer for changed files and upload only the changed files. By only backing up changed files you can still use this backup solution successfully if you are on a dialup connection. The 5 GB basic plan is good enough for most users, while the enhanced backup plan saves all versions of your documents from the previous 10 times your data was backed up. You may want to back up pictures, music and video with an external hard drive since these types of files can take up substantial storage space. The best part about using an automated remote backup plan is you don�t have to remember to backup your data. The iBackup program can be configured to email you a confirmation every time your data is backed up successfully.

  2. Burning a CD is a simple backup solution. Drawbacks include remembering to backup regularly and the limited storage capacity of a CD. You can find CD burners very inexpensively on ebay. DVD burners are an alternative which have more storage

  3. Smart Sync Pro is a great backup program that is designed to be used with an external hard drive, which offers more storage space than a CD or DVD. I own a Western Digital (manufacturer  ebay) 250 GB hard drive. Smart Sync Pro allows you to backup your entire hard drive, or just specific files & folders


Laptop LockLaptops have been known to sprout legs and run the other way when you�re not looking. Kensington makes an inexpensive laptop lock that works with almost all laptops. You can buy one direct from Kensington for $30 or more, or on ebay for under $10.


Recover Your Stolen Laptop - You can install a software program called Lojack for Laptops that enables police to trace your laptop if it's stolen.


Windows Logon � A windows logon password can keep your data safer from co-workers, your kids, and anyone who steals your computer. On Windows 2000 you can set up a password by going to the control panel, and selecting Users and Passwords


Document and Program passwords � Do you have a need to restrict access to sensitive documents that contain credit card numbers or passwords? Do you have a need to keep documents secure when you send them via email? Some programs have a password protection option. In Microsoft Word you can go to File � Save As � Tools � Security Options (in the upper right hand corner). Microsoft Excel has a similar feature.


Phishing is a popular tactic of identity thieves who try to coerce you to enter sensitive information into a website which looks identical to a bank, credit card, PayPal, or other financial institution website. As a website designer, I could create a replica of any financial company website in about 5 minutes, register an official sounding domain name like in about 3 minutes, and start sending out bogus emails requesting that you logon to update your identity the same day. After you divulge your credit card number or your PayPal password I could be on the next flight to the Bahamas with your hard earned money. It�s that easy. Scary, huh? What I do to stay out of trouble with phishers is simple: if I receive an email from PayPal or Citibank asking me to logon for whatever reason I DO NOT CLICK ON THE LINK WITHIN THE EMAIL. Emails are too easily forged, and websites are too easily replicated. Instead I type in or from memory, or from my saved internet favorites (NOT from copying the URL in any email) directly into my web browser so I know I won�t be the next victim of a phishing scam. I have created a video to show how you can avoid phishing scams - this video includes real examples of 5 scams that I have received. The FTC has written a very helpful guide to avoiding phishing scams.


Spam Free E-mail

By keeping your email inbox spam free you'll be less likely to download viruses to your computer.

Now that your computer is secure, you may want to learn how to save time online by reading our special report on automatic payments, Roboform, and Quicken.