Have you opted for high-speed Internet access at home? It's nice not having to tie up your regular phone line every time you use the Internet, or wait interminable amounts of time for Web pages to load. But there is one glitch: Such "always on" Internet connections can leave your computer open to attacks from hackers and computer viruses. To protect your personal information, consider the following tips.
1. Know your options. High-speed Internet access, or broadband access, typically is provided through a DSL (digital subscriber line) connection or a cable modem. Such access is much faster than what you get with a dial-up connection, and it frees up your telephone for normal use.
2. Understand what's at stake. With high-speed access, you stay connected to the Internet unless you turn off your computer or disconnect your Internet service. While connected, hackers could leave a virus or other software code on your computer, and you could lose personal information or software stored on your hard drive.
3. Use antivirus software. Invest in antivirus software that scans your computer and your incoming e-mail, recognizes current and older viruses, updates automatically and can reverse whatever damage may occur.
4. Install a firewall. A firewall is software or hardware that protects your computer from potentially harmful content on the Internet, providing protection from hackers and, to a limited degree, computer viruses and worms.
5. Beware of phony e-mail. Most viruses won't harm your computer unless you open the e-mail attachment that includes the virus. That's why hackers often are crafty, making the e-mail message appear to be from someone you know.
6. Act fast if infected. If you get attacked by a hacker, virus or worm, scan your entire computer immediately with fully updated antivirus software, and update your firewall.
7. File a report. If you have a hunch about how the attack may have happened, report the incident to your Internet service provider and to the hacker's provider, if you're able to figure out who that is.
8. Choose strong passwords. Create passwords that have at least eight characters and include numerals or symbols. Don't opt for commonly used or easy-to-guess words.
9. Turn off software features you don't use. Deactivate features such as instant messaging, printer sharing or file sharing that can be "on" when you bring your computer home.
10. Back up important files. Copy any significant files onto a removable disc and keep it in a safe place.