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Computer Security

How can you protect your computer and your important data?

There are some steps that you should take to help protect yourself when it comes to personal computer and Internet security. The following tips and resources may help you sort out some of the necessary and affordable software programs and precautions to consider in order to protect both your home computer and your peace of mind:

Keep your operating system software up-to-date

Keeping systems and applications current with security–related patches is critical. This includes the operating system and all installed applications and software, especially those related to network and internet activity like browsers, media players, email clients, and newsreaders. These are very common targets of attack. Updates and security patches are issued frequently and are important to ensure the best protection and performance. Enable your computer's automatic updates feature, or visit Microsoft, Apple, or Linux support websites regularly to download and install the latest updates for your specific operating system.

Install and update antivirus software

Installing trusted antivirus and antispyware tools and keeping them and their signatures current is an important part of defensive computer security. Viruses can use your machine to mass mail other victims, steal vital information from your computer, or worse, destroy your data.  They can come from surfing the Internet, e-mail links and attachments, downloaded files, removable media such flash drives and other file transfer media.

Use anti-spyware applications

If you’ve ever received a multitude of pop-up ads while surfing the Internet, you likely are ‘infected’ with spyware.  Spyware is a general term for a program that surreptitiously monitors your actions. While they can be sinister, most are used to gather marketing data.  Spyware companies make their money by showing ads against your will while you’re surfing the Internet. One must also be careful of programs called key loggers.  Key logger software is a program, which causes every keystroke made on the computer to be recorded. The program can remain completely undetected and is initiated when the computer is turned on. The key logger records everything outgoing to include e-mails, documents, login names, passwords, and credit card numbers etc.

Utilize a firewall on your system, especially if you us a high-speed cable or DSL modem

Dial-up modems are also vulnerable, but cable and DSL connections are always “on” and therefore easier for hackers to find and exploit. A firewall acts much like a guard when it looks at network traffic destined for or received from another computer. The firewall then determines if that traffic should continue on to its destination or be stopped. The firewall “guard” is important because it keeps the unwanted out and permits only appropriate traffic to enter and leave the computer.

Review Browser & Email Configurations

Configuring your browser to block active content like ActiveX, Java, scripting, pop-ups, images, and other potentially harmful content can increase online security, but may also inhibit your browsing experience and some website performance. One browser configuration strategy to manage the risk associated with active content while still enabling trusted sites is the use of pre-defined security levels. Review and edit your browser’s options under Internet Tools, Options, or Preferences.

Most email programs and providers allow you to configure it to send and display email using plain text instead of HTML. This can help reduce or elimiate many of the risks from embedded script, web bugs, and other HTML-enabled techniques used by attackers. But just as disabling active content in web browsers reduces the functionality of some features, using plain text can reduce the usability of some features.

Don’t fall for phishing scams

Phishing is a high-tech scam that uses email spam or pop-up messages to deceive you into disclosing your credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security number, passwords, or other sensitive information.  Never reply or link to any unsolicited emails asking for this information.  Click here for more Phishing Facts.

Important: Once provided to us at account opening, Mercantile Bank will never initiate contact with you and ask for your Social Security Number or bank account numbers. If you contact us, we may ask you to verify one or more as a means of identification, but we will never call or email you and ask for this information unsolicited. We advise you to never give out your Social Security Number or any bank account numbers to anyone that you have not initiated contact with first.  

Keep passwords unique and closely guarded

For each computer and service you use, you should have a specific password. Each password should be unique and unrelated to any of your other passwords. You should not write them down nor should you share them with anyone, even your family and close friends. Use combinations of letters and numbers that mean something to you to help in remembering them, but be sure not to use names, dates, and/or numbers such as addresses that are closely associated with you and your immediate family members.

Establish guidelines for computer use

If there are multiple people using your computer, especially children, make sure they understand how to use the computer and internet safely. Setting boundaries and guidelines will help to protect your data. You may even consider creating separate user accounts if there are other people using your computer. Most operating systems give you the option of creating a different user account for each user, and you can set the amount of access and privileges for each account. You may also choose to have separate accounts for your work and personal purposes.

Backup your data

Create backups of your most important data.  There are a variety of backup options including CD-ROM or DVD storage, external hard drives, USB flash drives, and even online service providers that will backup and store your data off-site on their secure servers.

Follow corporate policies for handling and storing work-related information

If you use your computer for work-related purposes, make sure to follow any corporate policies for handling and storing the information. These policies were likely established to protect proprietary information and customer data, as well as to protect you and the company from liability. Even if it is not explicitly stated in your corporate policy, you should avoid allowing other people, including family members, to use a computer that contains corporate data.

Keep your machine clean

Run de-fragmentation programs, scandisk and disk cleanup applications to keep your system running at optimal performance.  All three should be done monthly. Also, monitor and uninstalling any software programs you no longer use. In addition to consuming system resources, these programs may contain vulnerabilities that, if not patched, may allow an attacker to access your computer.

Dispose of sensitive information properly

Simply deleting a file does not completely erase it. To ensure that an attacker cannot access these files, make sure that you adequately erase sensitive files.