A Simple Question

Q: What’s the one best way to protect my computer?

Decorative Image - Question MarkRecently at a PurleyDinnerClub gathering I was asked a seemingly simple question: What’s the one best way to protect my computer? In thinking through the usual stock responses I came to a conclusion which typifies the intent of this blog and so I thought it appropriate to share here…

Initially my mind went to antivirus solutions, that the top brand antivirus products are all commendable and they are best sellers for a good reason (usual disclaimer applies). However I can’t mention antivirus without the caveat that no antivirus product is 100%; in recent tests of twenty top antivirus products they detected on average 96.2% of infections. Clearly antivirus alone is not enough.

Then my mind went to firewalls, that if you control what goes in and out of your computer you’ll identify and block trouble before it takes hold. However to do this properly takes a lot of effort and can get quite technical. You would need to understand communication ports, and you should whitelist websites and block access to anything that you aren’t aware.  Even this has flaws; legitimate websites are compromised all the time so if you allow content from a handful of websites you still can’t be sure that your trust is well placed. Clearly the effort to maintain anything more than a basic firewall is more than most people would undertake.

The next logical suggestion is patching, that your operating system, browsers, applications, and plugins are always up to date. While most products provide an automated update service these only run periodically so there will always be a window of time between a patch being released and the patch being installed on your computer. Furthermore there is often a window of time between a vulnerability being discovered and a patch being developed and released. Attacks that exploit this time frame are known as zero-day attacks. Clearly patching is very important but it leaves too much to chance.

Having quickly exhausted all of the typical suggestions with reasons as to why they should not be relied upon as a panacea my thinking moved on to the common factor; the human element. As advanced as our computers have become they are in effect still dumb machines, they do only what they are told (granted it’s not always you doing the telling but that’s another story). So if I had to give one piece of advice to protect your computer I’d say this; Be Aware.

Observation. Caution. Awareness. If you pay attention to what you’re doing you’re far less likely to fall into a trap, become victim to a scam, visit a malicious website… If something doesn’t look right then double check what you’ve done, where you’ve come from, where you’ve ended up. If somebody calls you on the phone, says they are from your bank and would like to check some details, do you trust them? Would you tell them your account number? Are you sure that they are from your bank? How do you know? They could be anyone. The same applies on the web.

Granted this might not help if you’re being targeted but if that’s the case then all of the advice above could be circumvented if the attacker is motivated enough. It also might not help if a legitimate website has been hacked and compromised. In both instances though being cautious and paying attention to the little things are likely to help you spot tell tale signs which could keep you out of trouble.

So to summarise, what’s the one best way to protect your computer? Be aware.


Image Attribution: Thanks to Master isolated images @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net for the image