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PC Security Recommended

Click here to skip the lecture, and go directly to the steps...

Public Service Announcement

When did you last back up the data on your PC hard drive?  Your data is irreplaceable! 

CDs aren't stable in sunlight - they lose your data! - and memory sticks are still too small.  External hard drives are cheap, connect to the USB port on any desktop or laptop PC - they're now under $100 for a terabyte or two!  Your time and data is worth far more.

If you won't do a physical backup, sign up for a backup service. Carbonite is the highest rated. Or at least copy your important files to Google Drive! "The cloud" is your friend!

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Your PC security is far too important to leave to chance.  If you do, chances are terrific that your PC contains viruses, trojans, adware, and spyware, and that your PC is being used to redirect your online activity and even to steal your data and steal your identity!  At the same time, your PC is slowed down, interrupted, and worse, your private data is shared publicly, with people and companies you don't know, including your banking passwords, credit card information, and anything you have ever typed into your PC! 

Mac and Linux users have less to be concerned about, but they are no longer immune.  As of February 2014, our routers are being attacked, so Mac and Linux users are at the same risk as PC users for theft of their banking and credit card data, and their identity. Pay attention to the router, virus, phishing, firewall, instant messenger, and privacy steps outlined below.  Mac users should also be aware that even Mac built-in antivirus is not perfect.  For more on the current protection needs for Mac users, read Mac Malware Guide.

Mac users should also read below on Router Security, Safe Browsing, E-mail Phishing and more... these all apply equally to Mac and PC users!

You may have noticed activity on your PC, but you just as easily may not have noticed.  Yet.  Some spyware shows up as pop-up ads.  Viruses may show up as unexpected error messages from your installed virus protection software, or the inability to run programs on your PC, often your virus protection program itself!  But the majority of virus and spyware activity takes place quietly, without your knowledge.

If this sounds scary, it should

To protect yourself and your PC, follow these (free!) steps on your PC, and every networked PC in your home.  If you are dealing with a work PC, talk to your office administrator or PC guru to be certain your office is protected by software in every one of these categories: (in decreasing order of importance, but they're ALL important).  If you're only going to do a bit of this, do steps 1, 2 and 3!

And if you are in Trouble with a capital T, before you do anything else, visit Trend Micro Housecall, and run their free-on-the-web virus and spyware scans right now, First.

  1. AntiVirus
  2. AntiSpyware
  3. Router Security
  4. Windows Critical and Security Updates
  5. Safe Browsing
  6. E-mail Phishing - don't get caught!
  7. Phishing / Spyware by Popup!
  1. Google Toolbar and Google Preferences
  2. Privacy, including Facebook Privacy
  3. Child Safe Browsing
  4. Instant Messenger (AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk, etc.)
  5. Teach the children well!
  6. Protect yourself against plagiarizing!

If you think you're hearing about viruses and spyware everywhere... you are.  Protect yourself!

Install and run Microsoft Security Essentials antivirus and antispyware program!  Run a full system scan at least weekly. Better yet, install Panda Free or Bitdefender Free (but not both). 

NOTE: If you are staying on Windows XP after its decommission, you must NOT depend on Microsoft Security Essentials.  It does NOTHING for you.  See below...

bulletIf you have a paid program that ranks in the top 5 this year, you need only run antispyware in addition; skip this Antivirus step. 
bulletMicrosoft Security Essentials is a free package from Microsoft that is more protective and less of a memory hog than many purchased solutions.  Download and install Microsoft Security Essentials.  Microsoft Security Essentials includes your anti-virus and anti-spyware program (previously called Windows Defender), as well as a software firewall.  You don't need anything else!
bulletMust do First! Uninstall your current anti-virus or security suite.  NEVER have more than one memory-resident anti-virus program at one time!
bulletThen install Microsoft Security Essentials or Panda Free or BitDefender Free
bulletWhen installing a free version, UNcheck the box for a limited-time free trial, instead installing the FREE version of the software.
bulletIf you are still on Windows XP, it's time for a new computer.  If you cannot upgrade to Windows 8.1 (8.1 is a better choice, and has the same hardware requirements as Windows 7) you should purchase one of the top Anitivirus software packages, such as Webroot or BitDefender.

Install and run an Antispyware scan... or two.  Antivirus, even paid packages that claim to serve both antivirus and antispyware, are NOT enough.  You should not have any other memory-resident anti-spyware program; Windows Security Essentials covers that.  But you can and must  run other anti-spyware scans regularly. 

bulletThe best free spyware scan is Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware Recommended.  Download and run this today! 
bulletDO remember to Update the software (4th tab across the top) before you run it each time.  If you are install the free version, be careful to uncheck any boxes that authorize a free trial of the professional version.
bulletBetter yet, purchase Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware Recommended and let it update and run automatically ← Recommended!
bulletA great PC cleanup scan is CCleaner.  Download and run the free version. This gets rid of a lot of junk that can get in your way.
bulletAn older but good free scan is also good: SpyBot Search & Destroy www.safer-networking.org  These days, you should run Spybot scans regularly, in addition to Malwarebytes'.
bulletWhen you install Spybot Search & Destroy, do not install or run the TeaTimer.  Microsoft Security Essentials has it's own memory-resident anti-spyware protection, and TeaTimer may conflict with it.
bulletWhen you run Spybot Search & Destroy, be certain to Immunize your system.  Delete everything Spybot detects.  But do NOT play with Spybot's "Advanced" mode unless you are VERY sure you know what you're doing.

Turn on ALL Router Security!

bulletChange the administrator ID and password of your router.  If you don't, anyone who knows the brand name of your router (Verizon, Netgear, Cisco, Belkin, LinkSys, etc.) can sign onto your router and redirect your network... and steal your banking / credit card ids and passwords, among other things! Memorize or store this ID / password somewhere safe. (You may put a new sticker on your router with these codes - only people with access to your home will see it.)
bulletFollowing your manufacturer's instructions, configure security on your wireless router.  Be certain to note and  the wireless security password / encryption key (long string of letters and numbers).  Choose the highest level of encryption supported by all your devices (WPA2 128-bit if or higher).  Carefully enter that number into each of your wireless PCs and devices.
bulletVoice of experience: be certain you have a wired PC connected to the router before you turn on or change your password - once you do, you will lose access from your wireless devices until you type in the new wireless security password.
bulletIf you do not do this, you are allowing your neighbors or anyone on the street to connect to your network, access your PCs, and potentially conduct illegal / illicit business through your connection to the Internet! 
bulletDon't believe me?  I visit my grandmother, who has no computer, and sit in her dining room connected to the internet... through the unsecured wireless router of someone in another apartment; I don't know who.  When our cable went down at home, we never lost Internet.  Why?   We  connected through our neighbor's wireless router.  We chose not to access the neighbor's PC files or print to her printer, but there was nothing to stop us!
bulletDo you have a Verizon FIOS network in your house? There are Android apps to "generate" the default key for your house... and sign into your network! We installed one of these apps on the smartphone, and quickly logged into our neighbor's password protected FIOS network. I kid you NOT! Change your FIOS network key immediately!

If you run Windows, make sure you install all updates available for your PC.

bulletRun Internet Explorer (it must be this browser, not Chrome or Firefox), click on Tools, and then Windows Update. 
bulletInstall ALL updates, recommended and optional.  The bad guys loves PCs without the Windows Updates installed... without these updates, you open the back door into your computer!
bulletIf you are running Windows XP, consider getting a new computer running Windows 7 or 8.  XP will no longer be updated, and security holes will no longer be patched by Microsoft.
bulletSet your PC to automatically install critical updates:
bulletRun Control Panel, and double-click on the Security Center icon.  Make sure Automatic Updating is set to Yes.

The safest way to browse? Carefully!

bulletIf you use Internet Explorer (IE) but it is really slow, consider disabling the IE "phishing filter."  But remember to never, never respond to an unsolicited e-mail from anyone you do business with - your bank, your eBay account, your PayPal account, etc.
bulletFrom the File Menu of IE, click on Tools, Internet Options.  Then click on the last tab, Advanced.  Scroll down to the Security settings, and locate the buttons for Phishing Filter.  Click on the Disable Phishing Filter button.  This will speed up page loading in Internet Explorer dramatically.
bulletMany websites no longer support "older" versions of IE.  This means if you're on Windows Vista, you may start having trouble visiting your financial institutions and other sites.  Fear not, this does NOT mean you're infected, just that you're trapped by Microsoft planned obsolescence.  Your best option?  Install Google Chrome until you buy a new PC.
bulletWhether you're on PC or Mac, for quickest results, install and use Google Chrome Recommended instead.
bulletQuickest page loads.
bullet For even faster browsing with less ads and less risk, install AdBlock Plus Recommended.
bulletAnother option is Firefox
bulletCheck for Privacy & Security Add-ons recommended by and for Firefox; AdBlock Plus and NoScript come highly recommended, to "remove ads and banners," and to "Allow active content to run only from sites you trust, and protect yourself against XSS, respectively."
bulletDon't be surprised if Microsoft websites still pop up in Internet Explorer... Microsoft tends to ignore the "default" setting, and uses IE regardless of your default browser setting.  Some sites, such as U.S. federal program sites, still require IE.

Phishing is still an e-mail threat.

bulletPhishing is a nasty, and very common, form of identity theft by computer.  And Phishing is a platform-independent threat - Mac users are NOT safe, either.  Phishing is when you get an unsolicited e-mail from a company you do business with (or one you don't) asking you to click on a link to update your personal information.  Once you visit their site, you are prompted for your name, id, password, credit card, and perhaps much more.  Your social security number can give the thieves total access to your credit identity.  Whatever you do, NEVER answer an unsolicited e-mail asking you to click and "update your information." 
bulletPhishermen can be VERY persuasive.  Their e-mails can suck you in with words about how your identity has been compromised, and you must click to restore it, or how there's been excessive activity on your account, or your account is being closed if you don't click.
bulletWhatever you do, DO NOT CLICK! If the e-mail purports to be from your bank, your eBay account, etc., visit your bank, eBay, whomever's site directly (don't click!) and log in.  If there's a message for you, they'll tell you there.

Phishing / Spyware by popup - a new style of an old trick.

bulletPhishermen are now sending popup windows to appear under (or over) your browser windows.  Previously only innocuous advertisements, these popups are now often contain spyware to be installed, or phishing notices to be filled out.
bulletWhatever you do, DO NOT CLICK anywhere on the popup.  Just because a buttons says "Cancel" or "No, thanks" does not mean that is what it will do!  A "Cancel" button can install the malware just as easily as an "Install" button.
bulletOld advice: ONLY use the red X in the upper right corner of the title bar to close the popup.
bulletNew safer advice: do NOT use the red X in the upper right corner to close the popup.  Apparently malware programmers are starting to reprogram the red X for their own purposes (to install malware).  Instead, press <Ctrl><Alt><Del> and bring up the Task Manager.  Click on the Applications tab, and select the task name of the popup, and then click "End Task."  This is the only truly safe way to shut down a popup window.
bulletIf you start getting messages on your status bar (little icons in the lower right) about your security, DO NOT CLICK.  Instead, download and run both Anti-Spyware scan programs MalwareBytes and Spybot Search & Destroy from above to clean up your PC.

Install Google Toolbar (for Internet Explorer and FireFox only, built into Google Chrome). 

Google Toolbar includes an excellent pop-up blocker - should be run by everyone not running Windows XP Service Pack 2 for pop-up blocking.  Also offers great 'net and site searching features - great tool for everyone.

Download and install Google Toolbar for Internet Explorer (IE) or FireFox.  You'll have a new toolbar on the top of your IE window, and you'll never get pop-ups again (unless you want them - click on the wrench to change your configuration settings).  Google Toolbar also includes a "site search" option - click the wrench, and select Options, Buttons, Search Site to have that button always appear on your Toolbar.
While you're visiting Google, set your Google Preferences.  While most of us need not change our language, families may wish to change Google's default SafeSearch settings.  SafeSearch by default uses moderate filtering; update this to strict filtering to filter both explicit text and images from appearing in Google search results on your PC.

Privacy is your responsibility

bulletWant to find out what can be learned about you on the Internet, and where?  Search on yourself at www.ZoomInfo.com and www.Naymz.com - you will be surprised what you find!
bulletYou can even find out about your home on the Internet.  Neighborhood values for the whole country are posted at www.zillow.com, some more accurate than others...
bulletCheck www.ZabaSearch.com to see more details about yourself.  Snopes.com seems unconvinced that there's any way to remove personal information from this information aggregator www.snopes.com/computer/internet/zabasearch.asp
bulletDo not click on links in unsolicited e-mails (see Phishing above).  Be careful; these are getting more and more elaborate!
bulletDo not give out your e-mail with product warranty information; these do not affect your warranty, but do put you on junk-mailing lists.
bulletSearch on your own name regularly - you may be surprised what you find.  Talk to the sites that have you listed, and remove your personal information from display on the web.  Set up a Google Alert on your name, and each of your husband and children's names, to get new information as it's posted about you.
bulletRepeat the search with your address, and then your phone number - in Google's reverse phone directly, you can opt to remove yourself (it appears this must be done annually)
bulletIf you subscribe to any Yahoo groups (mailing lists) or use Yahoo e-mail or Yahoo messenger, opt out of Yahoo's third party marketing:
bulletGo to Yahoo Groups, and click on My Account
bulletAbout halfway down the page, click on Edit your marketing preferences
bulletAbout halfway down that page, under Special offers from selected third parties delivered by Yahoo!, uncheck all marketing you do not wish to receive - these are all invitations to sell your name and e-mail address to third party advertisers, in other words, spammers!
bulletNext, go to Yahoo Off-Network Preferences
bulletclick on Web Beacons, and click Opt-Out to opt out of Yahoo's Web Beacon tracking
bulletclick on Yahoo! Cookies, and click Opt-Out to opt out of Yahoo's Cookie tracking
bulletAlso in Yahoo groups, change your e-mail preferences. Click on My Groups, and then Email Preferences.   Make sure that each e-mail address has both "Allow Direct Adds" and "Allow Invitations" are set to No.  If they are not set to No, click Edit and change the settings to No.
bulletTeach your children NEVER to give their name, address, school (town, team colors, mascot, etc.), even their age out over the Internet - little details can add up to paint a very accurate picture of where you live and who you are, even without a name.
bulletAdd your home and mobile phone numbers to the national Do Not Call registry.  Visit www.donotcall.gov and follow the directions for both your home and cell phone numbers - it's not clear how our cell phone numbers will be affected by the coming-soon cell phone 411 service, but registering your cell phone numbers, too, won't hurt.  You must reenroll in the Do Not Call registry every 5 years - if you signed up when it first became available, it's time to sign up again!
bulletWant to find someone who's been invading your privacy?  IP Address Tracking Program allows you to find out where someone is coming from, just by entering the IP address of their posts from the headers of their e-mail.
bulletKnow that people on the internet may not be what they appear.  For a very frightening view, read The Trolls Among Us

Facebook Privacy. So many of us are joining social networking sites, and Facebook seems the frontrunner in the gifted community. But how can we protect our personal privacy and still participate and share our friendship in these social networking communities?  Reign in your settings!

bulletFor Facebook and every social networking community you use including professional communities, MySpace, Facebook, Ning, LinkedIn... read and heed How Privacy Vanishes Online by Steve Lohr in The New York Times.
bullet10 Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know
bulletTurn Settings: Privacy: Profile settings to Friends Only, or Friends of Friends, to prevent the general public from seeing your postings.
bulletTurn off Settings: Privacy: Public Search Listing, and limit Search Discovery within Facebook if you'd prefer.  Control how much folks who aren't your friends yet can see about you.
bulletAdjust the Settings: Applications settings for applications you've allowed and those that "came free with" Facebook, including Notes and Photos.  This is a bit tedious, requiring individual changes for each application.  But it's also very powerful.  For each application you can select Wall settings (I use "Prompt me..." for many of my applications) and then Profile settings.  Here you can set the privacy level for each application.  Customize allows you to select groups of friends who can or cannot see wall postings from this individual application.  Allow your best buddies to see your cutsie applications, while limiting your professional friends to seeing only your notes and photos, for example.

Child Safe Browsing. Protecting the PC does protect our children from much of the danger of the Internet.  And the value of the Internet is huge, so not allowing Internet access to the children isn't a reasonable option.  But how can we keep them safe, and protect them from bad content and predators?

bulletMany people use some form of internet browsing filtering, such as ContentProtect, CYBERSitter, CyberPatrol and others.  These are the top three Internet filtering products in reviews of function and usability - if you're going to use one, use one of these.  Generally, browser filtering solutions fall into two categories: inclusive and exclusive.  Inclusive software allows the user to visit sites included on it's "list."  Many perfectly good sites are rejected by inclusive software, for reasons that may not appeal to you, as a parent.  AOL's child-safe setting works similarly, and AOL has been known to block sites like Hoagies' Kids & Teens for having "too many links."  While it makes sense that it's tough to constantly monitor a site that has many external links, this kind of policy prevents kids from many using wonderful and well-maintained collections of safe kids' links on the internet.

Exclusive protection software prevents the user only from visiting sites excluded by it's "list."  The inherent flaw in either approach is that many sites are not what they first appear to be.  A new porn site may use an innocuous site title and description, that initially fools exclusive software into permitting it.  And with either inclusive or exclusive protection software, your protection is only as good as the last update of the master "list."  You must be responsible for making sure that the latest list is downloaded to your PC, or if the software does the download automatically by subscription, that your subscription remains current.  And they are only as good as the "list" itself.  What they find objectionable, you may not, or conversely, you may prefer stricter standards.  But you have little or no control of the "list."

By the time the gifted child reaches middle school age, most have exceeded the useful life of such electronic babysitters.  The research they are doing for school may require access to more "excluded" topics or sites, such as the teen doing research on cancer, including breast cancer... but of course, any search result including the term "breast" is blocked.  Many kids of this age are more familiar with the PC than we are, and have found ways around the protection software anyway.  Or kids access the questionable content at their friend's house, where there is no protection software running. 

NEVER use a browsing filter that promises to be an all-in-one internet security suite.  No software does both jobs well, and you can NOT have more than one memory-resident anti-virus suite.  This means, when your browsing agent isn't getting the job done as an anti-virus, you will need to uninstall it to install a proper anti-virus.  Then you've lost your browsing protection for your children, too.

bulletFor all these reasons, most experts recommend supervision, rather than a programmatic solution, to watch our kids' PC and Internet usage.  Keep the PC in a "public" area of your home, such as the kitchen or family room, where you can glance over the child's shoulder to see what she's doing.  Talk about the potentially bad content, and how it sometimes comes up accidentally, and encourage them to surf smart, by reading the short description of a page on a search engine before clicking on it, and by backing out - and telling you - when they do accidentally encounter bad content. 
bulletEncourage young children to use a child-safe browser such as Yahooligans or Ask for Kids, or set the strict SafeSearch settings for Google searches on your PC.
bulletEvery browser has a History button, that allows you to view the history of the visits made on this browser.  Of course, the child might delete history, but our house rule is, if you delete your history, you lose your computer access.  And mom checks history randomly... whenever the mood strikes me, or more likely, when I need to update FireFox, Windows, AdAware, etc. (all described above).  If the child does delete their history, there are still very easy ways (even for computer novice parents) to check where they've been visiting.  Use your File Explorer to check the filenames and dates on their temporary internet files.  This will tell you where and when they visited websites.
bulletFor teens, read Katherine Tarbox's true story with your teen.  It's the story of her internet involvement, and eventually real-life meeting, with an Internet predator.  Originally published as Katie.com, it's been re-released as A Girl's Life Online.  Although some call it "sensationalism," Katie's own words resonate with teens, and are a firm warning of the danger, and how a situation can seem so real when it is not.
bulletTalk with your kids about Facebook and other social networks.  Encourage them to use gifted-friendly forums instead, to talk to other teens, such as Sheroes (mostly teen girls though there are a few boys, supervised) and Haven (teen boys and girls).  See Gifted Mailing Lists, Message Boards, Blogs for links to Sheroes and Haven.  If they use LiveJournal, encourage them to set all their posts to "friends only" and to only include people they know IRL (In Real Life) as their friends, so strangers can't read what they write.
bulletTurn on spam filtering for kids (and your own) e-mail accounts.  It's easier not to get into trouble, if the links to trouble aren't arriving right in your inbox!  The instructions for this vary by e-mail provider; contact your ISP or e-mail provider for more information.
bulletNote that Internet Service Providers such as Comcast are becoming so strict in their spam filtering that your private e-mail may be deleted before you receive it.  You may need to turn off spam filtering to receive your e-mail.  An on-line e-mail account such as GMail will trap spam, yet still allow you to review and reclassify the spam if it's appropriate.
bulletLimit hours spent on PC / Internet.  If you have broadband Internet access (Cable, DSL, Satellite or FIOS), you have a broadband router.  In the same place that you configured Wireless Router Security, you can configure your router to deny Internet access to specific PCs during certain times of the day.  Our router is set to block the kids' PC access from 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m.  Early morning homework is fine... after 5 a.m.  Late night homework needs to be done by 10:30, or done on Mom's PC.  These settings work well for our teens; you might want different settings.  Parents of home-alone kids might want to restrict after-school access.

There is a catch: you need to know the PC's MAC address.  This sounds scary, but it doesn't need to be.  Just go to the PC you want to limit access to, and follow these steps: 1) click Start, and click Run. 2) type CMD and press <enter> to get a command window (an old-fashioned DOS window).  In the command window, type ipconfig  /all, and press <enter> (the space between ipconfig and the slash is important - be sure to type it).  You'll get a list of stuff, but the item you need is the Physical Address - a set of 6 pairs of hex numbers.  Write the Physical Address down.  Then go to your router's configuration page (see your router's instruction manual, router configuration is usually reached by pointing your browser at or something similar) and click on Access Restrictions.  Here you can set rules to restrict Internet access by time, then add the MAC address (Physical Address) to the List of PCs affected by these rules.  We setup two rules; one for weekdays, and one for weekends.

If you're not on broadband, or prefer not to use your router settings, many internet browser filtering solutions offer time limits as well.

If you run AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), consider switching to the all-inclusive Instant Messenger programs Trillian or GAIM.  Check regularly for security updates!

Instant Messenger programs can punch holes in your firewall without you knowing it.  And there are a variety of these programs.  Instead of running all of AIM, and Yahoo, and Microsoft messenger programs, consider running a single program that handles all your Instant Messenger accounts and is more secure, too.  The free versions of these programs are plenty for everyday use.

bulletTrillian, from Cerulean Studios - this product replaces ALL your instant messaging software, including AIM, Yahoo!, Google Talk, MSN, IRC, ICQ and even Facebook in one neat package. 
bulletGAIM multi-protocol instant messaging (IM) client for Linux, BSD, MacOS X, and Windows, compatible with AIM and ICQ (Oscar protocol), MSN Messenger, Yahoo!, IRC, Jabber, Gadu-Gadu, SILC, GroupWise Messenger, and Zephyr.

Teach the children well!

Our parents taught us how to answer the phone safely, and not to let strangers into the house when they weren't home.  Today, the perils are different.  We need to teach our kids how to safely use e-mail, websites and social networking.

Visit Gifted Children as Digital Citizens for great resources on teaching our gifted kids 'netiquette'!

Protect yourself against plagiarizing!  Think your articles are safely yours, copyrighted, and posted on your website, or mine?  So did I, but I was wrong.  And it's not just the "bad guys" - there are two copies of my Gifted 101: A Guide for First Time Visitors article out there, on a school website's gifted identification page, and on a gifted teacher's FAQ page.  It's not just a line or two that's copied, or a simple description of the Hoagies' Gifted Education Page.  Neither of the pages actually link back to Hoagies' Page at all!  These folks are professional educators!  I'm certain they don't want their students to plagiarize the work they hand in, but...

bulletCopyscape allows you to search for copies of your page on the Web.  Just type in the URL of the article you're checking, and Copyscape will return a short list of pages with identical pieces of your content.  The free version isn't great if your article contains a popular book title, or popular quote, as some of Hoagies' Pages do.  But it's great for articles - text - and if you need more careful service, they offer a premium service with automatic monitoring and plagiarism case tracking, for a charge.
bulletThe Counter-Plagiarism Handbook offers detailed instructions for writers and editors, on how to prevent and deal with plagiarizism.


Last updated December 01, 2020

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