Here are 10 simple tips that every new PC or laptop owner should follow to secure their PC.
6. Secure your network & browser
There are a couple of things that can reduce the risk before you even venture online. The first thing to do is secure your wireless network. Most PC users will be running home wireless broadband via a router provided by their ISP. Although all should come with WPA, WPA2 or WEP security, in many cases such routers come with a default password such as '1234' or '0000'.
Make sure your Wi-Fi is secure, ideally with WPA2, and change the password to something no-one can guess. Then use a web browser with robust security and privacy settings, such as Internet Explorer, Chrome or Firefox, and ramp up those settings to the max.
7. Set up System Restore
A System Restore point is a sort of bookmark that's created whenever you make a significant change to your PC. Windows Updates create restore points, as does the installation of many programs. Your PC will probably also be set to create such points at given intervals – once a week or once a fortnight, perhaps – regardless of anything else going on with your PC. If something goes wrong, you can revert to an earlier point without losing your files and folders.
You can view your existing System Restore points by going to Start, Control Panel in Windows XP or Computer, Control Panel in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Click 'Performance and Maintenance' and choose System Restore from the list on the left. Choose 'Create Restore point' to manually create a point. You can give this point a name, making it easier to identify later. And when you first use your new PC, make sure System Restore is up and running.
8. Educate all PC users
Not so much of a tip as a way of life, this one. The biggest threat to any PC or network is the person using it. The easiest way to get a virus on to a system is to use greed or stupidity to trick the unwary user into downloading a file or clicking on a link. And there's no point being smug about it: we've all done it.
Human frailties will never entirely be conquered, but you can limit the dangers by setting strict ground rules with all users of your new PC, including yourself. Especially where children are involved it makes sense to set time limits, and blacklist sites that you feel are inappropriate or risky. Windows Live Family Safety is an example of a free tool that can help in this way.
Keep admin rights only to yourself, and make sure that people know before they go anywhere near your PC that downloading dodgy files will not be tolerated, passwords must be robust and varied, and anyone forwarding on a round-robin email will be summarily banned from the computer.
9. Physical security
Something close to home, as we had a break-in at PC Advisor Towers not so long ago. Actually, 'break in' is too strong a term, as someone walked in off the street and made off with a valuable laptop. Computers, particularly laptops, are easily some of the most nickable items in the home. It makes sense, then, to take two simple precautions.
Firstly, keep your computer away from any windows. Wherever possible at night it should sleep upstairs with you, and it should definitely not be visible from the street. And get a Kensington Lock, or similar, to attach your PC to something immovable. You don't want to take all the above precautions only to find that your perfectly protected PC is physically stolen.
10. Be wary and wise
None of the above tips will guarantee security for your system, but taken together they should make it less than worthwhile for a cybercriminal to gain access to your PC, your data and – ultimately – the contents of your wallet. Key to it all is a sense of vigilance.
Your new PC is there to be enjoyed – the internet is a wonderful resource, and you shouldn't live in fear. But a dollop of healthy scepticism, and a modicum of care in all things related to your PC will help to keep it, and you, safe and secure.