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10 ways to guard against cybercriminals

They're so easy and habit-forming you'll want to share them with your friends, family and neighbors.

Of course, we're talking about stay-safe security tips that will help protect you -- and your computer -- from thieves hunting your money and personal information.

Luckily, you don't have to be an IT professional to follow these guidelines.

Good security habits
Computer security doesn't have to be an inconvenient chore. It's all about making everything automatic or easy to remember daily. Learn how to protect yourself online with these simple tips.
10 ways to guard against cybercriminals
1. Regard all unsolicited calls, e-mails and instant messages as potential scams.
2. Don't follow links in suspicious e-mails.
3. Make sure you have Internet security software.
4. Run updates.
5. Scan your computer daily.
6. Block instant messages from anyone not on your buddy list.
7. Don't download software from a Web 2.0 site.
8. Scan files with your anti-virus software.
9. Don't rely on toolbars.
10. Two is not better than one.

1. Regard all unsolicited calls, e-mails and instant messages from strangers as spam, especially if money or personal information is requested. If you receive a message that appears to come from your bank or company with which you have an account, call the company directly to verify the message. Do not respond to any communication you did not initiate.

2. Don't follow links in suspicious e-mails. Even if you can recognize a phishing site, malware could sneak onto your computer while you're looking at the malicious page.

3. Make sure you have a comprehensive Internet security suite installed on your computer. The software should include a firewall and protect you against viruses, Trojans, phishing sites, spam, adware and spyware. Some packages include instant messaging protection and guard against rootkits, a stealth technology that can hide the existence of malware from security scans. Look for products that allow automatic updates and that write new threat definitions frequently.

4. Run updates before you go online each day. That way your computer is protected from the latest threats.

5. Scan your computer daily with your anti-virus software. "A scan is something that should run every day," says David Marcus, security research and communications manager for McAfee Avert Labs. Schedule the scan when you're not doing anything on the computer, that way it won't interrupt you.

6. Configure your instant messenger client to block messages from anyone not on your buddy list. That should eliminate spam from strangers. You can reopen communication lines when you need to speak with a new friend.

7. Don't download software from a Web 2.0 site. You never know if you are downloading something malicious. If you need an updated version of a media player to watch a video clip, go directly to the official Macromedia's Web site and download updates from there.

8. Scan files sent over instant messenger and anything you download from the Web with your anti-virus software. Learn how.

9. Don't rely on toolbars as sole protection against malicious sites. Toolbars might not detect recently placed malware on Web 2.0 sites previously deemed safe, for instance. They're not infallible. You'll still need up-to-date Internet security software and you'll need to watch where you navigate.

10. Two is not better than one. Don't run two software programs that perform the same operation. For example, two spyware-destroying programs. "It's a no-no," says David Perry, public education director for Trend Micro. The two programs can work against each other.

Update, update, update
Remember that one of the biggest things you can do is keep all your software up to date. That means not just your operating system and anti-virus software, but also your multimedia applications. Don't ignore alerts informing you of available updates. They could contain critical patches for security vulnerabilities.

"In real estate, it's location, location, location," says Ronald O'Brien, senior security analyst with Sophos Plc. "In the IT world, it's update, update, update."

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