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11 hidden security threats and how to stop them

How to foil the latest crop of sneaky security attacks

Antivirus software and a firewall alone can't guarantee your safety. Here's how to foil the latest crop of sneaky attacks and nefarious attempts to steal your data.

Use stronger passwords
If encrypting seems to be more of a hassle than it's worth, at least use strong passwords to protect your PC.

Longer passwords are better; more characters take longer to crack. You should also mix things up by substituting numbers and special characters for letters. For example, instead of using 'PCAdvisor' you could use "PCA*v1s0r'.

Though that's still a phrase you can easily remember, the character diversity makes it significantly harder to guess or crack.

You should have a secure password to log in to your user account even if you're the only person who uses your computer.

Note, however, that while strong passwords are a great deterrent, they aren't impervious to attack. An invader who has physical possession of your computer can find ways to get around that protection.

Lock down your BIOS
By implementing a BIOS password or a hard-drive password (or both), you can ensure that no one else can even boot the computer.

Getting into the BIOS varies from system to system. The initial splash screen that your PC displays usually tells you which key to press to access the BIOS settings; watch as the computer is booting, and press Del, Esc, F10, or whichever key it specifies.

Once inside, find the security settings. Again, these settings vary from vendor to vendor, but the BIOS settings are fairly rudimentary.

You can set a master password that prevents other people from booting your computer or altering the BIOS settings.

This option goes by different names, but it is often called an administrator password or supervisor password.

If you wish, you can also set a hard-drive password, which prevents any access to the hard disk until the password is entered correctly.

Methods for circumventing these passwords exist, but having the passwords in place creates another layer of security that can help to deter all but the most dedicated attackers.

Use a recovery service
If your equipment gets lost or stolen, you'd like to recover it; but if you can't get your hardware back, you'll at least want to erase the data it holds. Some vendors, such as HP and Dell, offer services that try to do both for select laptop models.

When you report that a laptop protected with one of these services has been lost or stolen, a small application running in the background on the PC waits for the computer to connect to the internet and then contacts the monitoring center to relay location information for finding the machine.

If a protected lost or stolen laptop cannot be retrieved, or if the data on a system is highly sensitive, these services allow you to remotely erase all of the data stored on it.

Though less comprehensive, free utilities such as the FireFound add-on for Firefox provide similar capabilities.

You can configure FireFound to automatically delete your passwords, browsing history, and cookies following a failed login attempt.

Mobile phones can hold a significant amount of sensitive data, too. Fortunately, services such as Find My iPhone, part of Apple's MobileMe service, and Mobile Defence for Android-based smartphones perform similar feats of location tracking and remote data wiping for smartphones.

Both MobileMe and Mobile Defence can use the built-in GPS capabilities of your smartphone to pinpoint the current location of the device and relay that information back to you.

NEXT PAGE: Rogue Wi-Fi hotspots

  1. We show how to foil the latest crop of sneaky security attacks
  2. Data harvesting from your profile
  3. Web snooping
  4. Trojan horse texts
  5. More tips for avoiding exposing your data if a laptop is lost
  6. Rogue Wi-Fi hotspots
  7. Endangered data backups
  8. Five security myths
  9. Additional security resources


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