|If you are a typical home
user of a computer, it is of utmost importance that security be a priority. A lot of
sensitive, personal information is kept on your computer. If someone
obtains access to your computer, they could glean enough information
to take out loans, get credit cards and even make a mortgage in your
name. If you have online bank accounts, they could empty your
accounts, and while the money many eventually returned to you, it
could take far too long and the damage to your credit and life style
could be irrevocable.
Even if you never go online or have an internet account, your computer could be stolen and any tax records, records of bank accounts, or credit card numbers could be in the hands of those who do not have your best interests at heart. If you use your computer for any serious purpose, the data on it is not something you want any one to have access to. This is a serious issue that few realize the import of.
Since most people use the computer for online access, and realistically, online is from where most compromises occur, I'll cover the basics of online, basic security first.
If you are using windows 7, the built in firewall blocks most intrusion attempts from the internet. When you turn on your brand new computer and hook it to the internet, there are attempts to gain access to your machine. Even without a firewall, most of these will fail, but it's irrelevant how many fail if only one succeeds. Before you plug the internet cable in, make sure you have the firewall enabled. Don't Play with that one.
If you are not using windows 7, but are using another windows OS, zonealarm: http://www.zonealarm.com/ has both free and paid versions. I used the free one for years, and some of my computers still use it.
Your second level of online defense is a virus checker that is resident all of the time and gets frequent updates. Personally, I use: https://www.avira.com There is a free version on the download page, it can be configured for daily updates, and it works.
Your third level of defense is to get a reasonably secure browser. I user Mozilla Firefox:
https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/new/?from=getfirefox One of the advantages of Firefox is the ability to install addons that can give enhanced functionality to the browser. I highly recommend the noscript extension, betterprivacy, Disconect and there are many others that you could find usefule, but those I mention are security oriented.
How you configure Firefox to handle cookies, those data elements that web sites store on your computer to identify you and keep information about you, is a personal choice, but I set them to delete when I close Firefox, and I NEVER save passwords in Firefox. That does mean that, sometimes, I have to make a few extra key stroke, but I consider the security worth it.
As you browse, you'll find that many sites require an ID and a password to function. I just said NEVER save passwords in Firefox, so what do you do? Post it notes on the screen are not a good idea! There is a program called Keepass. Version 2.2 is solid and has great functions. It'll keep all of your ID/Password information in and securely encrypted file and can be configured to automatically type the id and password into the login screen of your web page. It can even start the browser and go to that page. As usual, it is free and very functional.
Email is another area of vulnerability. I'd strongly suggest using a third party email program. Thunderbird, which is part of the Mozilla project is my personal choice for several reasons. https://www.mozilla.org/en-US/thunderbird/ As you go through the options, especially the security tab. If you have doubts, fire up your favorite search engine do some reading. There is no magic formula and everyone's needs are not the same.
For the typical home user, these are the basics of online computer security with a little spill over into physical security – keeping your data safe even if your computer is in the hands of someone who wants to compromise it. With Keepass, you passwords and Ids are safe if you have a good password.
Truecrypt is the next solution. http://www.truecrypt.org/ This free, open source program can make encrypted areas on your hard disk that can be mounted as virtual drives on which you can put any information you want. Without knowing the Truecrypt keys, no one will be able to access these files. It can also encrypt entire drives and partitions, making them unreadable and unrecognizable to normal systems routines. With Truecrypt in place, you have the ability to securely and transparently encrypt any data you wish encrypt.
If you want the ability to communicate by email or send email attachments that are encrypted http://catfangz.com/GNUPg4Win.html describes and implementation of GPG for Thunderbird email. That is reasonably complex and may be more that most people want, but another solution is to encrypt a single file with a compression program and send that to the intended recipient. You will need to communicate the password to them, but there are many ways that can be accomplished. My favorite is: http://peazip.sourceforge.net/ Free and open source.
One of the ways you can securely “chat” on the internet is to use a Firefox addon called Crytpocat: https://project.crypto.cat/ This one is free and uses public/private key encryption to secure your chats.
There is always the question of how secure do you want your security to be? Here is a longer article about internet security. http://catfangz.com/frostwire/Bsec.html If any of that caught your interest, here is a review of a VPN that I'm using.
Basically, security can be considered as online and physical. Online security implies that what you want people to know about you, online, is all that they get to know. Physical security means that, if your computer is in the hands of someone else, they can't obtain any sensitive information that you object to their obtaining.
Physical is the easiest to accomplish. Full drive encryption is not very difficult. The cost is that access time is a bit slower, and you need to have in place the protocols to attach your drives at boot time. Memory sticks, small unencrypted partitions, external drives and strong passwords are some of many options.
Online security is a never ending battle. Some of the basics are covered here, and if you pursue these, you will find additional sources and concerns. You have to decide the level of security you want and require. Do what it takes from there.