Keep Your PC Safe - Internet Security For the Home User PDF Print E-mail

As the number of cable modems and Wi-Fi networks increases, internet security is becoming more of an issue. You may think that your Internet connection is safe from unwelcome and unwanted intrusion by hackers, but there are some things you can do to improve your security levels to stop hackers gaining access to your personal details, bank account numbers and passwords.

The reason that Internet security is becoming more of an issue now is that people are spending longer connected to the Internet. And unless that pathway is protected by high level security, the hackers will have more opportunities to find a way in. Hijacked machines (often known as zombies and forming part of botnets) are valuable to fraudsters and spammers. The trick is to beat the hackers at their own game.

There are three aspects of home Internet protection, sometimes referred to as the 'holy trinity'.

Personal firewall/intrusion detection

These are the firewalls that often come with your operating system. In older operating systems such as Windows 95 and 98, these systems have virtually no inbuilt security. Because these systems have now been superseded by more up to date software, it is advisable that if you are still operating Win95 or 98 to upgrade to a system that is supported by a Microsoft inbuilt firewall.

All versions of Vista, XP and 2000 are still supported by Microsoft and have inclusive firewall protection. For an additional layer of security, external firewall programs can be incorporated into your operating system as simply as downloading any other piece of software. It is advisable to talk to an expert, however, as some firewalls may not be compatible with your operating system and you may encounter run conflicts that could affect other aspects of your system.

The most popular free downloadable firewall is Zone Alarm, although for comprehensive coverage, Zone Alarm Pro is probably a better option. You can also set your Internet security levels to 'high' on your operating system if you are going to be on the Internet for prolonged periods.

Anti-spyware software

Spyware is software that covertly gathers user information through the user's Internet connection without his or her knowledge. That information is then passed to a third party (the hacker or fraudster) and suddenly your secure system isn't quite as secure as you thought it was. There are countless pieces of embedded software (often also known as 'malware') that piggyback onto downloads and install themselves into your operating system. These include BHOs (Browser Helper Objects) which hijack your browser and take it to their 'chosen' site whether you want to go there or not. Although annoying, these don't do any real damage. However, other spyware can count keystrokes and relay these back to hackers who, from this data, can uncover passwords and other information such as account numbers. Anti-spyware software stops this malware from infiltrating your computer and leaving your important information exposed.

Anti-virus software

A virus can devastate a computer. Designed to cause maximum damage to your data, viruses are created to cause mayhem and have no other purpose other than that. Anti-virus software is essential, particularly if you are using the Internet for long periods of time, and the best option is to include a package such as McAfee VirusScan in your operating system. Ensure that you update this program regularly (you will receive prompts from your computer on start-up).

No piece of anti-virus or spyware software can cover all threats, so it's a good idea to keep an eye out for updates and to combine several systems to cover your bases. There are also some things you can do for yourself when online to keep your PC and your personal details safe:

  • Never open email attachments if you do not know who the email has come from, or even from friends. This is the easiest way to allow a virus to access your system.
  • Avoid downloading files from sites you are not familiar with.
  • Ensure that your security protocol is set to 'high' if you are going to be online for any length of time
  • No bank will ever ask for your details via email. Any that do are scams and should be immediately deleted without responding and your bank notified of the scam attempt.
  • If something looks suspicious (poor spelling, bad graphics), then trust your instincts - it probably is a bogus email or phishing attempt to get access to your personal details
  • If you have a wireless network in your home, ensure that it is password protected.
  • Never have the same password for all your sites.

With a little thought and preparation, you can keep your home PC safe from outside attacks and your details out of the hands of fraudsters.

How to Achieve Good Internet Security

In the computer industry, Internet security refers to techniques for ensuring that data stored in a computer cannot be read or compromised by any individuals without authorization. Most security measures involve data encryption and passwords. Data encryption is the translation of data into a form that is unintelligible without a deciphering mechanism. A password is a secret word or phrase that gives a user access to a particular program or system.

Internet security can be achieved through following steps.


Your Internet service provider (ISP) should be your first line of defense. If you have a choice, choose an ISP that offers online virus, spam and content filters. This will reduce, but not eliminate, the amount of spam and the number of infected emails that you receive. The content filter is to protect your kids. If you do not have a choice or want to keep your current ISP, consider using an online email service that offers virus and spam filters. For more information, see our Broadband page.

A variety of Privacy Software is available to clean your browser, stop spam, trip up phishing, filter content for kids, catch web bugs, manage cookies, and block banner, pop-up and pop-under ads. For more information, see our Privacy, Anti-Spam and Anti-Phishing pages.


Routers provide the security from internet using Network Address Translation technique. Network Address Translation (NAT) typically has the effect of preventing connections from being established inbound into a computer, whilst permitting connections out. For a small home network, software NAT can be used on the computer with the Internet connection, providing similar behavior to a router and similar levels of security, but for a lower cost and lower complexity.


A firewall blocks all "roads and cars" through authorized ports on your computer, thus restricting unfettered access. A stateful firewall is a more secure form of firewall, and system administrators often combine a proxy firewall with a packet-filtering firewall to create a highly secure system. Most home users use a software firewall. These types of firewalls can create a log file where it records all the connection details (including connection attempts) with the PC.


Some people or companies with malicious intentions write programs like computer viruses, worms, Trojan horses and Spyware. These programs are all characterized as being unwanted software that installs automatically on your computer through deception.

Trojan horses are simply programs that conceal their true purpose or include a hidden functionality that a user would not want.

Worms are characterized by having the ability to replicate themselves and viruses are similar except that they achieve this by adding their code onto third party software. Once a virus or worm has infected a computer, it would typically infect other programs (in the case of viruses) and other computers.

Viruses also slow down system performance and cause strange system behavior and in many cases do serious harm to computers, either as deliberate, malicious damage or as unintentional side effects.

In order to prevent damage by viruses and worms, users typically install antivirus software, which runs in the background on the computer, detecting any suspicious software and preventing it from running.

Some malware that can be classified as Trojans with a limited payload are not detected by most antivirus software and may require the use of other software designed to detect other classes of malware, including Spyware.


Spyware is software that runs on a computer without the explicit permission of its user. It often gathers private information from a user's computer and sends this data over the Internet back to the software manufacturer.

Adware is software that runs on a computer without the owner's consent, much like Spyware. However, instead of taking information, it typically runs in the background and displays random or targeted pop-up advertisements. In many cases, this slows the computer down and may also cause software conflicts.


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