You can't turn on the news without hearing about some scary new computer security problem. We recently told you about the largest ransomware attack ever.
There are always digital threats looming out there, such as hackers, snoopers, viruses, phishing attacks, and I could go on. If you don't think computer security is a big deal, think again.
So, hopefully, you've added some great security software to your system. You've encrypted your Wi-Fi network to keep out criminals. Maybe you know how to protect yourself from ransomware attacks.
Those are all good things, and I highly recommend them, but the big question is whether it worked. Are your computer and information really safe?
If you don't test your security, you might have a wrong setting or unpatched flaws and never know it. Companies regularly hire hackers to test their security for them. Fortunately, you can do it yourself for free.
1. Test your settings
To kick things off, grab Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer. This free tool examines your Windows and Office settings for any potential problems.
First, it will check your user account passwords. It will alert you if any account has a weak or disabled password. Accounts with weak or disabled passwords are easy prey for hackers. Click here to learn how to create a stronger system password.
MBSA will also check many of your account settings. Is your computer set up to get automatic updates? Do you have more than one Administrator account on the computer?
MBSA also has guides to what settings are preferred and why. Just click the "What was scanned" or "Result details" links to read them.
Pay attention to your shared folders. MBSA will show you folders set up for sharing. You may have opened up some private folders in the past. Anyone else on your network can access files in these folders. Make sure you're only sharing what you mean to share.
2. Update your browser plug-ins
You follow my advice and keep your browser updated to the latest, safest version, right? If you aren't sure whether or not your browser is up to date, click here.
But an up-to-date browser is just the beginning; you need to make sure your browser plug-ins are up to date, too. An outdated plug-in leaves your browser and your computer open to attack.
Open up the browsers on your computer, even ones that you don't really use, and go to Mozilla's Plugin checker. It will show you every plug-in installed on the browser and whether it's up to date. Even though it's from the company that makes Firefox, it does work for Internet Explorer, Chrome and other browsers.
If you want to remove any plug-ins or toolbars you find, follow the instructions I provide here.
3. Test your firewall
One of the basics of any security setup is a firewall. Windows and Mac have decent firewalls built in, and many third-party security programs include them.
A firewall keeps hackers from seeing your computer online when they're searching for victims. Even if they know where your computer is, the firewall keeps them out.
However, a wrong port setting can send up a flare revealing your computer or give hackers an opportunity to slip past. If you have a virus, it might have changed your settings without you knowing.
A port test service like PortTest scans your firewall to make sure your computer is invisible. If it can see you, so can a hacker.
4. Permanently delete files
Did you know that deleting your files doesn't really remove them? They can still hang around your hard drive for days or weeks. Anyone who knows what they're doing can recover them.
That's why it's a good idea to permanently delete any sensitive files you no longer need. Click here for step-by-step directions.
Of course, you don't want to just trust that the files are gone. To make sure, fire up a file-recovery program like Recuva to see what it can find on your system.
If it doesn't find the files you permanently deleted, then you're in good shape.
5. Check your Facebook settings
Your computer isn't the only place you keep your information. Think about how much you have up on Facebook that a scammer would love to have.
Even if you have your privacy settings set just right, you could still be in danger. Facebook changes its privacy settings regularly. If you don't keep up, strangers could see your information.
That's why the "View As" tool is so handy. It shows you what your profile looks like to the public or specific people. If any of your information has the wrong settings, you'll be able to see it.
Go to Facebook and open Settings >> Timeline and Tagging. Next to "Who can see things on my Timeline" click "View As."
You'll see exactly what your profile looks like to strangers. Click through your Timeline, About, Photos, Friends and other sections.
You can edit everything in your profile. To the right of each item will be an icon with an upside-down triangle. Click this to choose who can see the information.
There are plenty more settings you can change that affect your Facebook privacy. Click here for a full walk-through of Facebook's privacy settings and how they work.