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Wed 1 Apr 2009 04:00 AM

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Five ways to protect your data

Windows takes a look at five lesser known but important things you should be doing to protect your data

Protecting your data usually involves a degree of common sense. You wouldn't, for instance want to lose your data stick at the local Laundromat, and you wouldn't open an email attachment from a source you don't trust, thus potentially unleashing a virus that wipes out your entire hard drive's information. However, there are lesser known but important means of protecting your that you should consider employing, and Windows takes a look at 5 things you should be doing to protect your data.Data Encryption

‘Encryption' might conjure up images in your mind of spies covertly communicating with each other. But encrypting your data on your PC is one of the most effective means of data-protection. When you encrypt data, it becomes scrambled so that it can neither be read nor make any sense to others. You would need to enter a password for encrypted information to become visible and readable again. One particular way of password-protecting your data is to compress your data and encrypt the documents using a program such as WinZip.

Widely used applications such as Microsoft Office can be used to employ encryption as well. To password-protect a document in the latest versions of Microsoft Word, you can click on ‘Tools', ‘Options' and click on the ‘Security' Tab. You can then add a password to a document and set the type of encryption to be used.

There is also third-party software out there that you can download for free and use to encrypt your data. One such piece of software is TrueCrypt (www.truecrypt.org). It can be used to create a virtual encrypted disk and it can also encrypt an entire partition or storage device, such as a USB flash drive or hard drive.

You can even encrypt your online login data. Many of us use social networking and even job searching sites. The result is that many of us end up putting a lot of our important information online and many of us might even end up using the same username and password over and over again for each one of these sites. This is a risk as you should try to vary your login details as much as possible by including a variety of symbols, numbers and upper and lower case letters in your password. However, you can also use software that encrypts your passwords such as Roboform (www.roboform.com), which is free and compatible for up to 10 websites. This software assists in making it difficult for hackers to snoop upon your login information.

Secure your wireless transmissions

Wireless internet connections come with the risk that somebody can access your data indirectly. According to Dailywireless.com, there are a number of ways you can protect your wireless transmissions. Your first step in securing your wireless network lies in the administrator password that is needed to log into the device and modify any configuration settings.

Most of these devices use a weak password such as "password" and the manufacturer's name. As a result, there are entire websites dedicated to listing the login information for the relevant routers and their models. Therefore, as soon as you setup a new WLAN router or access point and after your first login, make sure that you change your username and password to something that nobody can guess. Stay away from using your name, birth date, anniversary date and so on as these are the first things a hacker could take a guess at. It's also advised to avoid common English words as hackers can use dictionary hacking tools. Another risk is that when you send information over a wireless network, it often isn't encrypted properly. Many people are using routers that use the old encryption standard WEP (Wireless Equivalent Privacy) that can be hacked relatively easily. There is a far more superior encryption standard of WPA2 and if you're running Windows XP, there are a number of things you can do such as install Windows XP's WPA2 hotfix. You would also need to update your wireless card driver by visiting Microsoft's update web page and navigating to the subheading "Hardware Optional".

Once your computer and wireless card are up-to-date, you would need to log into your wifi's admin page through your web browser (you can find the URL in your router's instruction manual). Once signed in, change the security settings to "WPA2 Personal" and select the algorithm "TKIP+AES". Finally, enter your password into the "Shared Key" field and save the changes.

Antivirus software

Kitting out your computer with antivirus software is not as expensive as it used to be. There are obviously all the commercial versions out there such as Norton's anti-virus software and Panda anti-virus software, but there are also free open source antivirus software options that you can use such as AVG Free. AVG includes anti-virus and spyware protection for computer systems running Windows.

You can download AVG by visiting the following URL http://free.avg.com/.

Using steganography

One way in which you can encrypt files is by using steganography, which involves encoding data into an image. If hackers do gain access to your computer, then all that they will find is a group of images. You can download free software such as Hide in Picture (http://sourceforge.net/projects/hide-in-picture/) that allows you to conceal files inside bitmap pictures.

Back up your data

A good way to protect your data is to back up your data. There are various ways and means of doing this but it's a good idea to back up your data onto an external hard drive which makes it easier to have your documents stored on one location. There are many external hard drives that you can purchase, such as Western Digital's external hard drive. Many of these devices also come with backup software to help you through the process. Other than backing up your critical files on a single master folder that is sub-divided into sub-folders with your music files, pictures and so on, it's also suggested that you backup your files daily and then backup all your files at least once a week.

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