As you might have gathered from the news, the internet has become a hunting ground for amateur and professional criminals.
One approach is to disconnect from the internet (not complete protection in itself) but then you miss out on all the benefits of being online.
Or you can act as in normal life: fit good locks, an alarm system, keep the keys safe, take care when out and about and be careful who you invite into your home.
Here are some hints and tips on how to enjoy the internet while protecting your data and therefore yourself.
Microsoft wants to protect your PC without upsetting its industry partners. So if you have not installed a commercial antivirus product like AVG or McAfee, Microsoft Update will eventually install and activate the free Microsoft Security Essentials on Windows Vista and Windows 7, and the new enhanced Microsoft Defender on Windows 8 and 8.1 and Windows 10.
The CryptoLocker virus (ransomware) of September 2013 is a timely reminder to take precautions against criminals as well as accidents. Take backups and store them offsite, somewhere safe. Depending on how much data and how often it changes, you can use: CD, DVD, USB memory stick, portable disk drive, cloud storage, automated online backup.
Be aware that the lifetime of optical discs and flash memory is in the region of 10 years. Compare that to paper which can survive hundreds of years.
For cloud storage, look for a reliable company with a good reputation. Secure transmission and secure storage help to protect valuable data. If your data contains personal information about living individuals, check the legal data protection requirements at the Information Commissioner's Office.
After taking a backup of your data, verify the backup to make sure it is readable and complete. Place backups out of reach of your PC, because CryptoLocker and its variants will search all attached drives and the local network for data to encrypt and hold to ransom.
Finally don't discard or overwrite an old backup until you are sure that more recent backups are complete and readable.
By default Microsoft hides common file extensions like .pdf and .docx so as not to confuse you, the poor user. Unfortunately this also hides file extensions in email attachments. As a result you can be deliberately misled into activating a virus. What you see as Receipt.PDF might actually be Receipt.PDF.exe which is a program, and probably malicious.
To arm yourself with the necessary information, follow the link above to the View option and reveal (un-hide) file extensions by unticking and applying this setting:
[ ] Hide extensions for known file types
Now when someone you want to trust sends you an email attachment, hover over it with the mouse and check the file extension, the set of characters after the last dot in the file name. Watch out for underlines before the last dot (Receipt.PDF_____.exe) and if you don't recognise the file extension as safe, then don't click it!
Windows XP end of life
Some Microsoft websites refuse to respond to old Internet Explorer versions on XP, which can no longer be updated. As time goes on, your PC will become more vulnerable.
First, backup your data as mentioned above.
Then consider your choices: