When our PCs work normally, we sometimes take them for granted. We recklessly fill up our hard drives with data, download files, install applications and browse the web as we please.
But of course, with all the malware, viruses, and phishing threats lurking in every corner, if you don't take basic security precautions, your computer's functionality will ultimately not last. All it takes is one installation of a malicious application to ruin your PC and worse, have all your information stolen.
To keep your PC healthy and secure, here are five basic tips you should be doing all the time:
1. Set up Windows Defender the right way
If you're running Windows 8 or 10, you may have noticed that your system already has built-in antivirus and malware protection software called Windows Defender. It's actually a decent program for guarding your PC against virus and malware threats.
When you start Windows, Windows Defender automatically runs in the background, scanning for malware in real time. It checks for potential threats when files are downloaded, moved from external storage and before they are opened.
Here's how to check if Windows Defender is protecting your system in real-time: Start button >> Settings >> Update & Security >> Windows Defender >> make sure Real-Time Protection is turned on.
Windows Defender also scans your PC when it's idle but if you want to set your own schedule, try these steps:
- Search for "Schedule Tasks" then launch the best match
- In the left pane expand the Task Scheduler Library >> Microsoft >>Windows folder then look for the Windows Defender folder. Double-click on it.
- On the center pane, double-click "Windows Defender Scheduled Scan."
- On the new pop-up window, select the "Triggers" tab and click on "New..."
- From here, you can set your task frequency (we recommend daily) and the start times. Click OK when done.
The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update is introducing key features to Windows Defender. One is Controlled folder access. This feature is designed to stop malicious apps and malware from modifying your folders and files.
Note: Windows Defender is not available for Windows 7 machines. If you're looking to protect an older Windows 7 machine, you can download the comparable Microsoft Security Essentials.
2. Get all the Windows updates
If you want to keep your computer safe and get the latest features, which you do, it's important to install the updates as soon as they come out. The latest virus and malware definitions for Windows Defender are also included in the updates so you'll want to apply those as soon as you can.
Fortunately, you don't have to mark your calendar; you can set the updates to install automatically.
Even if you know the updates are automatic, there's still one very important step you need to do each month to make sure you're safe. I'll cover what that is further down.
On most Windows computers, updates are set to "automatic" by default, but it never hurts to double-check that you have the right settings in place.
For Windows 10, click Start (Windows logo), choose "Settings," select "Update & Security," then on the "Windows Update" section, click on "Advanced Options." (Note: the "Windows Update" section is also handy for showing you updates that are currently being downloaded or applied.) Under "Advanced Options," just make sure the drop down box is set to "Automatic."
In Windows 8 and 7, launch your PC's Control Panel, click System and Security and then under Windows Update click "Turn automatic updating on." Choose "Install updates automatically" in the drop-down menu.
You can choose when the updates will install. Updating usually restarts the computer, so try to pick a time you won't be using it, like during the middle of the day for your home computer or late at night for an office computer.
3. Use Edge’s SmartScreen Filter
Have you tried Microsoft's Edge web browser yet? It is Microsoft's most secure and modern browser yet. One of its built-in features that can protect your system from potential threats is called the SmartScreen Filter.
Edge's SmartScreen Filter automatically detects and blocks harmful files and dangerous websites that are flagged by Microsoft as unsafe.
As you browse, this filter will analyze the content and data of your browsing activity and compare it to Microsoft's dynamic list of reported dangerous sites and files. You will get a warning and a notification that the website or file was blocked for safety reasons.
Here's how to check if your Edge SmartFilter is on:
- Launch Microsoft Edge then click on the three dots in the upper-right corner to open the Menu.
- Click on Settings.
- Click on "View advanced settings."
- Scroll down and check if "Help protect me from malicious sites and downloads with SmartScreen Filter" is on.
4. Use good passwords
Here's another tip that won't surprise you - always use strong and unique passwords for all your accounts.
Whether your passwords are too short, too simple or have been used time and time again, these mistakes can put your private information at risk.
Good passwords are at least eight characters that mix capital letters, numerals and special characters. You can even take it a step further by creating passwords that are made up of unique passphrases with 16 characters or more (for example, "ilovefreshsashimituna").
Never include any personally identifying information like your birthdate or home address. Remember to use a different password for each service too.
5. Don’t fall for phishing scams
Cybercriminals are constantly improving their techniques and coming up with new ways to trick innocent computer users. Phishing is commonly an email scam, but it can also happen through social media, text messages and regular old phone calls.
To protect yourself from these phishing attempts, you need to be extra cautious with links.
If you get an email or notification from a site that you find suspicious, don't click on its links. It's better to type the website's address directly into a browser than clicking on a link.
Double check the URL too. Before you ever click on a link, hover over it with your mouse to see where it is going to take you. If the destination isn't what the link claims, do not click on it. Scammers will also try and slip a fast one by misspelling a domain name on purpose to fool you so always double check the URL spelling.
When available, you should be using multi-level or two-factor authentication. This is when you have at least two forms of verification, such as a password and a security question before you log into any sensitive accounts.
Bonus: Have a backup in the cloud
Gadget disasters can strike anytime. We sometimes take for granted how our computers, tablets and phones seem to work all the time ... until they don't.
And it's not just software issues and malware threats that we need to watch out for, natural calamities like floods, fire and storms can wipe out all our data in a flash.
This is why a quick and reliable backup in the cloud is a must if you have tons of data you want to protect. We recommend our sponsor IDrive. You can backup multiple gadgets with a single account, even your social media accounts!
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