1. Install AND maintain antivirus software on each computer that has Internet access.
Antivirus software has become a necessity in the Internet age. Each day, hundreds of new viruses are created and released onto the net to wreak havoc, and it's up to you to protect yourself. Antivirus software is the first line of defense for your computers and home network. The software is designed to detect hidden viruses in files, plus discover virus-like activity that may be running on your computer. Many antivirus programs will scan incoming e-mail as well - this is the most important form of protection you can have, since many of the worst worms are sent via e-mail. Once you have antivirus software, you have to maintain it by getting the latest virus definitions on a regular basis. As mentioned before, new threats are released every day, so your software needs to get the latest information to combat them. Many antivirus applications offer features that will allow them to automatically check for updates and download them - not a bad idea if you think you might forget. If you choose to perform manual updates, we highly suggest at least twice a week.
2. Install and maintain a software firewall on each computer that has Internet access.
A good software firewall will prevent connection attempts to your computer that you did not specifically authorize. It will also warn you about programs on your computer that attempt to access the Internet - perhaps without your knowledge. When faced with the threat of today's "Trojan" viruses, malicious software, and Spyware, it's important to know that software firewalls give you more of an advantage than a hardware-based solution. There are many brands of firewalls available, some are even free - just be sure the one you choose offers the features described above. After installing a firewall, you will notice warnings about software on your computer that attempt to access the Internet. The golden rule is: if you don't know what it is or does, DON'T let it out!
3. Keep your operating system and software up to date with the latest security patches/fixes.
Every day, experts are finding new weaknesses in software applications and operating systems that hackers can use to take advantage of connections and information. In response, software vendors will create patches or updates to their products to close these security holes, but it is usually up to the consumer to download and install these fixes. To give yourself the best defense possible, check for security updates on a regular basis - especially for your particular operating system. Many products even have the ability to schedule updates that will simplify things for you.
*These suggestions are written geared towards Windows-based operating systems, since they make up a large percentage of computer users. However, these safety measures can be applied to all operating systems.