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Computers are now an integral part of everyday life. It is hard to imagine a working environment or even your home without the quiet hum of a computer in the background. But these bastions of technology have an Achilles heal – they are vulnerable to attack.

The flaw in the design

Because the Internet is an ‘open’ network, anyone with the will and the ability can access almost any area of the system. Malicious activity on the Internet is a growing problem, particularly with the amount of sensitive data that the average computer stores. This can include everything from passwords to bank account details, making it relatively easy for the determined hacker to access your data and even steal your identity.

Hackers employ various methods for gaining access to systems. In business, companies perform audits to find out where their system is open to attack. An audit replicates the methods hackers use, looking for weak spots and vulnerability within the network. These audits are known as ‘penetration testing’ and involve isolating mild, moderate and critical security threats and then determining the best course of action to beat the hackers. For business users, Internet security should be a priority, and not one that is regarded as a ‘once every so often’ check but a daily routine. A penetration test should target two key areas – preventing financial loss through fraud and also through unreliable business systems and processes. Failing to carry out these checks regularly could mean lost business, lost profits and a lost reputation.

A more personal level

For home users, there are things you can do to protect yourself and your computer from attack. The first and most basic level is to add Internet security in the form of effective firewalls and anti-viral software. Most operating systems (such as Windows, Apple or Linux) come with their own inbuilt security systems. Although fairly good for basic use, it is advisable to upgrade this security on a regular basis. Updates for operating security systems are usually free and automatically download regularly. But if you are thinking of improving your security system, choose a package that also offers regular updates.

Never open attachments to emails unless you are absolutely sure you know the sender or are expecting a particular file to be sent to you. If it looks suspicious, it probably is. Banks will never ask for your account details by email, no matter how convincing the email may look. If in doubt, contact your bank direct and verify your details in person.

On a more technical level, you can carry out some security checks that will prevent hackers from piggybacking onto your network or hacking into it. This is particularly important if you are operating a Wi-Fi system. Change the SSID (name) of your network and disable the SSID broadcast. You can also prevent unwanted access by disabling the DHCP control MAC address filtering.

Installing WEP Encrypt also adds an extra blocking mechanism against hackers and change the WPA to a random selection of 10 characters. Finally, make sure that you have different passwords for each facility you access such as your Internet banking, Ebay and Amazon. Having the same password for everything is an open invitation to hackers. If they get hold of one password, then you can limit the damage they can cause. But if that password is an ‘access all areas’ key, you are leaving yourself wide open to an onslaught of hacking that could wipe out your sensitive information and even your bank accounts. Never underestimate the abilities of hackers, and never underestimate the importance of Internet security.

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