Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson


web wise sections
Tech Tools Header

Antivirus software
Browser settings
Parental controls
Wireless networks
Strong passwords

shieldThere are several software products and settings you can make that will help alert you to or protect you from certain kinds of technology attacks such as malware, viruses, and so on.   Use these programs and keep them up to date so they can defend you against the latest threats.



Operating system and other software updates

When software companies discover security gaps in their software, they make updates available to fix them. Download these updates (commonly referred to as patches) on a regular basis.  If you use Microsoft Windows set up Windows Update (click Start/Control Panel/Check for Updates) to automatically check for and download the latest updates.

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A firewall puts restrictions on what information can come through to your computer.  Don’t use the Internet without having a firewall turned on.  Depending on the settings you choose, a firewall will reject unsolicited requests coming to your computer, or will verify with you whether a request should be blocked or allowed.

Microsoft Windows offers built in firewall protection, as do some other operating systems.  Third party firewall programs include ZoneAlarm and Norton Personal Firewall.

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virusAntivirus software

Computer viruses are small programs that can be downloaded to your computer and cause damage to your data or operating system.  People are coming up with new viruses every day, so it’s important that you use software that is up to date with the latest virus definitions and protects your computer from them.

It’s critical that you install an antivirus program, such as those from McAfee, Symantec, or Trend Micro.  You must frequently update the virus definitions to deal with the latest viruses.  Also, be sure to run a scan of your computer on a regular basis.  For conveniences you can use settings in the software to set up automatic updates and scans.

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Spyware and adware cause pop-up ads to appear on your screen or track your online activities. With the amount of spyware and adware attempting to download to your computer an anti-spyware/adware program is a must-have security tool.  If you don’t guard against these those annoying pop-ups will be the least of your problem. Eventually these programs will slow your computer performance down to a crawl.

There are several good free programs available, or use your operating system’s tools (such as Windows Defender).  You may need to purchase a subscription to get automatic updates.  As with antivirus software, you can set up anti-spyware/adware to run scans automatically at a present time increment.

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Browser settings and filtering software

Your browser should help you monitor your browsing experience, but you have to make certain settings to get the level of monitoring you prefer.  For example, in Internet Explorer you can click Tools, Internet Options to set security and privacy preferences.  Browser settings provide a small measure of content filtering.  To comprehensively filter content so you don’t see unwanted materials or sites, you may want to purchase filtering or blocking software.  This helps you set boundaries for the types of sites, text, and images you and your family are exposed to.

Several software options are available to limit where your child or teenager can go on the Web:

  • Blocking software denies access to certain sites based on the specific Web address. Some programs permit you to add sites to the list. The more frequently the site database is updated with accurate information, the better the coverage.
  • Filtering programs deny access to inappropriate sites based on certain words or phases. Filters aren’t perfect, however: Some inappropriate content may slip past them, and some harmless sites may be inadvertently filtered out.
  • Monitoring software records the computer’s activity and may flag certain sites that have been accessed.
  • Turn on safe search features.

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Parental controls and family safety

Whether you have a PC or a Mac, you can limit how your children use the computer. Software programs are designed for multiple users but your computer may automatically log-on a default user if you don’t alter its settings. You can change the setting by going to the Control Panel and clicking on the User Accounts icon. Create new accounts and passwords for each person who uses the computer, including you. Designate yourself as “Computer Administrator” and set your child’s account to prevent installing software, altering system settings or accessing your saved documents.

Many ISPs and Web portals also provide safety settings, often called parental controls.  You can set these up to filter out content that you don’t wish to see based on keywords or categories of content (such as sexually explicit or violent content).  You can also use these programs to limit or monitor your child’s online activities. If you don’t find your ISP’s tools adequate, you can search online for products that provide various levels of content monitoring.

You can also restrict your child’s ability to send and receive email or instant messages to only those friends that you approve of. Check your user manual or software provider’s website for instructions.

Visit our Internet Safety for Families and Educators page for more about protecting children online.

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wireless2How to protect your wireless network

If you set up a wireless router but did not set up security passwords or activate encryption, then chances are good that your network and your computer are not protected. But you can correct that fairly easily by following the instructions provided by Microsoft or Apple.

(Note: Once you secure your network, friends and guests who want to access your wireless network will have to get the password or key from you before they can go online.)

Once your wireless network is secure, check to be sure you have the latest antivirusfirewall, anti-spyware, and other security programs running and up to date.

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keysCreating strong passwords

Safe passwords don’t have to be hard to create; they just have to be hard to guess.

The prospect of creating a strong password, changing a password or using multiple passwords makes many people anxious because they believe it requires memorizing multiple complex passwords such as Wts4e_79PBa13^_qnS.

The result is that people find the task so daunting that they continue to use one simple password. This just isn’t safe, particularly if the password is a simple one. If that one password gets compromised, all of your Web information is compromised.

Some people use several passwords, but these passwords are short, simple words or include numbers that relate to their personal information (such as birth date or address) and so are easy to guess.

If you made hard-to-remember passwords you probably did so because your business or a website forced you. In this case, you are likely to have a list of the passwords next to your computer – even though you know this also compromises your safety.

keyboardWhat makes a strong password

There are some very easy rules of thumb you can use to make sure your passwords aren’t weak.

Weak passwords:

  • Password – The word “Password” is the most commonly used password and it is pathetically weak – as are ‘default’ and ‘blank’. These are simple words and easily guessed or broken with a dictionary assault on the password.
  • Smith1968 - Though this uses 9 characters and includes letters and numbers, names that are associated with you or your family, or uses other identifying information such as birth year, are easily hacked.
  • F1avoR – Though it mixes up capitols and numbers, it is too short and substituting the number 1 for the letter l is easy to guess.

Strong passwords. It’s easy and can actually be fun to create strong passwords - you just have to know how - and the payoff in increased safety is huge. There are 5 principles when protecting passwords:

  1. Length – use at least 10 characters
  2. Strength – mix it up with capitals, characters, and numbers
  3. Obscure – use nothing that is associated with you, your family, your company, etc.
  4. Protect – do not place paper reminders near your computer
  5. Change – the more sensitive the information, the more frequently you should change your password

Look at these examples of password patterns that are safe but also easy to remember.

 Logic  Password
 A familiar phrase typed with variation of capitalization and numbers instead of words (text message shorthand)  LL8r_L8rNot2Day = Later, later, not today
   2BorNot2B_ThatIsThe? = To be or not to be, that is the question
 Incorporate short codes or acronyms  CSThnknAU2day = Can't Stop Thinking About You today
   2Hot2Handle = too hot to handle
A password that is an easy to remember phrase because it describes what you're doing, with key letters replaced by a number or symbol  1mlook1ngatyahoo = I'm looking at Yahoo (the "I"s have been replaced with "1"s)
 A word spelled backwards with at least one letter represented by a character or number  $lidoffaD = Daffodils (the "$" replaces the "s")
   y1frettuB = Butterfly (the "1" replaces the "1")
 Patterns from your keyboard.  Make your keyboard a palette and make any shape you want.  QWERTY7654321 - This is the 5 letters from left to right in the top row of your keyboard, plus the numbers from right to left across the top going backwards.
   1QAZSDRFVGY7 - is really just making a W on your keyboard (see the image below)








Beware of simple password hints

question Often, you are given a choice of password ‘hints’ when setting up a membership or an account. Security questions that someone can easily discover the answer to expose you to theft on the site involved, and allow the criminal to collect additional information about you. When given a choice, never pick a hint whose answer is easily discoverable.

When all the choices – as in this example - are easily discoverable, feel free to ignore the question and use an answer that means something to you; for example, sunshine. The site isn’t actually validating this information for accuracy; they just want you to provide the same answer that you used to establish the account. Enter whatever you want, but make it memorable.

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