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Protect Your Computer

Install anti-virus, anti-malware, and anti-spam software

  • Computer viruses can install malicious software ("malware") programs on your computer without you knowing it.
  • Anti-virus and anti-malware software helps detect and remove viruses and other types of malware from your computer.
  • Anti-spam software helps prevent spam and junk email from entering your inbox.
  • Use reputable software.
  • Don’t install software offered through pop-up windows warning you that your computer is infected. These may actually install malware!
  • To securely close a pop-up window, do not click the "X" in the upper-right corner of the window. Instead, right-click on the task bar button (at the bottom of your computer screen), and click Close, or use the Task Manager. If you cannot close the window using these methods, exit and restart your Internet browser.

Install a firewall and keep it turned on

  • Your computer should have a firewall.
  • Firewalls help protect your computer against criminals who want to crash your computer or delete or steal confidential information.
  • Firewalls come prepackaged on some operating systems or can be purchased for individual computers.

Need help with Anti-virus or Firewall software?

Operating System

What You Need

Where to Get help

Microsoft Windows

  • Anti-virus software (included in recent versions of Windows)

  • A firewall (included in recent versions of Windows)

Go to Microsoft Safety & Security Center

Apple Mac OS X

  • Make sure "software update" is enabled from the Apple Menu

  • Schedule weekly checks for new software updates in "system preferences"

Go to Mac OS X: Updating Your Software


Use strong passwords and change them frequently

  • A strong password should combine no fewer than 8 letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Never share your password with anyone.
  • Create a unique user ID and password for online banking that you never use anywhere else (for example, webmail, social networking or any other online accounts).
  • Don’t carry passwords around in your wallet—especially if they are listed along with usernames and websites.
  • Never use a password you’ve seen used as an example or in a list of good or bad passwords – the bad guys like to start with these!
  • Make your password easy to remember and hard to guess. For example, you can turn your pets’ names – Spot and Rover -- into the password "Sp0t&R0v3r." Or you may want to convert the sentence "I love my dogs, Spot and Rover" to a password of "I<3mdS&R." It’s still meaningful and memorable but harder for someone else to guess. (And remember, don’t use either of these examples!)

Erase (or physically destroy) your hard drive before discarding your old computer

Private information stored on your computer’s hard drive should be erased or destroyed before you get rid of your computer. First, make a backup copy of any important data you want to save. Then, to erase information permanently, you must either wipe (or “scrub”) your hard drive with special software or physically destroy it (for example, by drilling holes in it). These steps are necessary because your files may be easily recoverable even after you have deleted them or put them in the “recycle bin” on your computer and emptied the bin. Learn more about how to safely dispose of old computers and hard drives.

Keep your system current

  • Keep your computer operating system, Internet browser, and other software up-to-date for additional protection against fraud and theft.
  • Most current operating systems have the ability to automatically update critical system files. Take advantage of this to better protect your computer.
  • Regularly update Adobe Flash
  • Acrobat Reader for Windows or Macintosh

Change default passwords and network names

  • When you buy a wireless router or cable modem, it comes with a default password set up by the manufacturer. Be sure to change the default password to your own unique password.
  • Routers also come from the manufacturer with a default name (or “SSID”). This is the name that shows up when you search for a wireless network to get on the Internet. Don’t keep the default SSID. Instead, rename the network. (Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions)
  • Following the manufacturer’s instructions, make sure the encryption (for example, WPA2 or WEP) on your wireless router is turned on.

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