Practicing good security on your computer is important. It's how you prevent identity theft, financial theft or damage to your hard drive with malware.
Luckily, practicing good security isn't difficult to do. Here are seven basic and easy security fixes to make to your computer right now.
Make your passwords stronger
This seems like the ultimate no-brainer security fix, but many people still don't follow it.
As Ronnie Flathers, associate security consultant for Chicago-based Neohapsis pointed out, passwords are and will continue to be the weakest form of authentication, but they are also the most common.
Your passwords should be complex (including uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers), unique to each site and changed periodically.
Install all software patches
Outdated software often has vulnerabilities that are easily exploited. A good example of this is the Java software environment, which had a reported 40 vulnerabilities as late as July 2013, said Benjamin Caudill, co-founder and principal consultant of Rhino Security Labs in Seattle.
Internet Explorer, Firefox, Adobe Flash and other frequently used Web-facing applications are in the same boat, with new exploits being released all the time.
By simply ensuring your operating system and applications are patched to the newest version, you can prevent many attacks against your system, Caudill said.
Install anti-virus software and set it to auto-update
Cybercriminals often go after the weakest prey, and those computer systems without installed and updated anti-virus software make the easiest targets.
"However, anti-virus is only as good as its signatures," said Caudill. "Similar to a wanted poster of a known criminal, anti-virus [software] most regularly updates its list of 'wanted posters' to look for the latest viruses and other malware. Without these updates, new attacks may go by undetected. This is why allowing the anti-virus to auto-update its signatures is also important."
Don't forget that Macs and Linux boxes can get malware just as easily as Windows PCs. Users of those platforms should install anti-virus software as well.
Run frequent anti-virus scans
Because today's sophisticated malware is designed to remain undetected, many users don't know their computers are infected until something catastrophic happens.
Dodi Glenn, director of AV Labs at ThreatTrack Security in Clearwater, Fla., recommended periodically running an anti-virus scan on your PC.
The results will tell you whether your computer is clean. If it's not, you'll see what kind of malware is running on it.
Lock your computer
Anonymous, remote hackers aren't the only threats to your computer security. People you know can be threats as well.
Whenever anyone accesses your computer without your permission, you risk being infected by malicious downloads or someone snooping into your personal records.
To avoid unauthorized access, set up a password to lock your computer's screen.
If other family members use your computer, set up a personal user profile with a password, and also set up administrator access so that only you can download software and applications from the Internet.
Create a separate administrator account
Speaking of administrator access, it's best to set up a limited-user account that can't install or remove software for your day-to-day use, even if you're the primary or sole user of a computer.
That way, any malware that infects your regular account, and borrows your user privileges, can't do much damage.
Create a separate administrator account with full user capabilities, but use it ONLY when modifying software. Log out of it when done and return to your regular, less powerful account.
Set up your computer's firewall
All modern personal-computer operating systems have a software-based firewall that screens network traffic and blocks unwanted applications, but the firewalls are often not turned on by default. (You can turn the Windows firewall on in Control Panel.)
In Windows 7, for example, the built-in firewall will allow you to customize settings for home, office and public environments, as well as govern the behavior of each application that connects to a network.