Tips on protecting yourself and your computer on the Internet.

Most of us use our own computer or our work PC to access the Internet. The Internet has given us a window to a world of instant information, communication and e-commerce. Unfortunately, this window through which we reach out is also the route taken by unwelcome "guests" such as spam, viruses and trojans that can damage our PCs; it is also the route taken by those who seek to steal private information from us and sell us pirate software.

Use these tips to reduce the risk of being harmed via the Internet.

1. Use anti-virus software and keep it up to date. Be sure to update your anti-virus software regularly! The more often you keep it updated, say once a week, the better.

2. Don't open emails or attachments from unknown sources. Should you receive a suspicious email, the best thing to do is to delete the entire message, including any attachment.

3. Protect your computer from Internet intruders - use "firewalls". Firewalls create a protective wall between your computer and the outside world. They work by filtering out unauthorized or potentially dangerous types of data from the Internet, while still allowing other (good) data to reach your computer. Firewalls also ensure that unauthorized persons can't gain access to your computer while you're connected to the Internet.

4. Regularly download security updates and "patches". Most major software companies today release updates and patches to close newly discovered vulnerabilities in their software. You need to be sure you download and install the patches!

5. Use hard-to-guess passwords. Mix upper case, lower case, numbers, or other characters not easy to find in a dictionary, and make sure they are at least eight characters long. Passwords will only keep outsiders out if they are difficult to guess! Don't share your password, and don't use the same password in more than one place.

6. Back-up your computer data regularly. Either back up your data on an external disc or, if your PC is on a network, on another computer in the network. Many people make weekly backups of all their important data. Make sure you have your original software start-up disks handy and available in the event your computer system files get damaged.

7. Don't share access to your computers with strangers. Learn about file sharing risks. Your computer operating system may allow other computers on a network, including the Internet, to access the hard-drive of your computer in order to "share files" and possibly infect your PC with a virus.

8. Disconnect from the Internet when not in use. Remember that the Digital Highway is a two-way road. You send and receive information on it. Disconnecting your computer from the Internet when you're not online lessens the chance that someone will be able to access your computer.

9. Check your security on a regular basis. You should evaluate your computer security at least twice a year.

10. Educate your children and family members of the above. Not doing so would only cancel out all the above steps you may have taken!